“Oh Boy! She’s Coming to Richmond”: Mamie Smith Brings the “Crazy Blues,” 1921

talking-machine-jan-1921
The Talking Machine World, January 15, 1921, 27, accessed archive.org.

Historians of blues music and folk culture consider Mamie Smith to be the first African American woman to record blues vocals.  In 1921, only a year after this historic recording, Smith performed to sold-out crowds in Indiana.  Newspapers covered the release of Smith’s records and her Indiana performances extensively. We were interested especially in a spring 1921 performance by this African-American star in Richmond, Indiana, a Ku Klux Klan stronghold at the time.

Before 1920, African American entertainer Mamie Smith, who was born in Cincinnati,  worked in Harlem as a chorus girl and cabaret singer. Here she met the black pianist, singer, and composer Perry Bradford who had found success in theater and minstrel circuits in New York.  Bradford, who was interested in preserving African-American musical traditions in recordings, convinced Fred Hager, recording director of the obscure label OKeh Records to take a chance on recording Mamie Smith.  Bradford convinced Hager that African American music lovers were an untapped market and that “they will buy records if recorded by one of their own, because we are the only folks that can sing and interpret hot jazz songs just off the griddle correctly.”

"A studio headshot portrait of American blues singer Mamie Smith," photograph, circa, 1923, Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images accessed "Mamie Smith and the Birth of the Blues Market," All Things Considered, NPR, http://www.npr.org/2006/11/11/6473116/mamie-smith-and-the-birth-of-the-blues-market
“A studio headshot portrait of American blues singer Mamie Smith,” photograph, circa, 1923, Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images accessed “Mamie Smith and the Birth of the Blues Market,” All Things Considered, NPR.

In February 1920, Smith recorded “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” for OKeh Records. Blues music historians consider this to be the first blues recording by an African American woman. Record producer Hager received boycott threats if he recorded Smith or any other African American singer. In the face of the controversy, Bradford convinced Hager to continue backing Smith, as opposed to the white singer Sophie Tucker, who Hager was alternatively considering.  Bradford recalled:

Mr. Hager got a far-off look in his eyes and seemed somewhat worried, because of the many threatening letters he had received from some Northern and Southern pressure groups warning him not to have any truck with colored girls in the recording field. If he did, OKeh Products – phonograph machines and records – would be boycotted. May God bless Mr. Hager, for despite the many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerves and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which would echo aroun’ the world. He pried open that old ‘prejudiced door’ for the first colored girl, Mamie Smith, so she could squeeze into the large horn – and shout with her strong contralto voice.

Smith recorded another set of songs penned by Bradford for Okeh in August of 1920. The track “Crazy Blues” became massively popular and in less than a year the record sold over a million copies. According to long-time music writer Jas Obercht, Smith’s “Crazy Blues” “could be heard coming from the open windows of virtually any black neighborhood in America.” Okeh Records called it “a surprise smash hit.” According to New Orleans jazz musician Danny Barker:

There was a great appeal amongst black people and whites who loved this blues business to buy records and buy phonographs.  Every family had a phonograph in their house, specifically behind Mamie Smith’s first record.

Image of "Crazy Blues" on OKey Records accessed: Jas Obrecht, "Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues," http://jasobrecht.com/mamie-smith-the-first-lady-of-the-blues/
Image of “Crazy Blues” on OKey Records accessed: Jas Obrecht, “Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues,”

This was certainly true in Indiana.

Indiana newspapers ran ads for Mamie Smith’s records not long after the release of “Crazy Blues.”  Often the ads for Smith’s records were also attempts to sell phonographs as Barker mentioned in the above quote. A downtown Indianapolis music store ran this advertisement in the Indianapolis News in November:

Indianapolis News, November 30, 1920, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles
Indianapolis News, November 30, 1920, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The C. W. Copp Music Shop ran an advertisement in the South Bend News-Times in December for the hit “Crazy Blues,” but also let an interested public know that they stocked other Mamie Smith records. Hoosier interest in Smith’s records continued into the new year.  In March of 1921, the same South Bend music shop ran several advertisements for five new Smith records and the Hammond Times ran an advertisement for Okeh Records releases, featuring Smith, and to sell listeners the phonograph  to play them on:

Hammond Times, March 4, 1921, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles
Hammond Times, March 4, 1921, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

According to Obrecht, Mamie Smith recorded 22 songs this year and “between sessions, she kept a grueling schedule of concert appearances.” The Talking Machine World magazine reported that Smith and a revue of entertainers were going to perform in all the major U.S. cities. By April 1921, many Hoosier music fans were familiar with Mamie Smith, as we can see from the newspaper ads.  So when the news broke that she was booked to play in Indiana, the coverage continued almost daily until the performance.

According to the Talking Machine World she performed in Indianapolis and Evansville on this tour, but a search of Hoosier State Chronicles and our recent work to digitize the Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram shows that she also performed to sold out crowds in Richmond and South Bend. This is especially interesting considering 1920s Richmond was only about 5% African American, while perhaps as many as 45% of white males belonged at some point to Whitewater Klan #60, an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. We wondered, what brought Smith to Richmond and how was she received?

The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram ran a notice of Smith’s Saturday, April 23, 1921 performance at the Coliseum for weeks before the date.  Here are some great examples:

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921, 7.
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

And:

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 19, 1921, 7.
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 19, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

On April 21, 1921 alone there were three ads for Smith’s upcoming performance and records, including this extensive listing of popular songs:

Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram, April 21, 1921, 3.
Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram, April 21, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.
"Famous Colored Star Sings Here Saturday," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. 9
“Famous Colored Star Sings Here Saturday,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Advertisements were not the only coverage of Smith’s upcoming appearance in Richmond. On April 18, 1921 the Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram reported on the “forthcoming appearance here of Mamie Smith, the popular phonograph star of the colored race, and her All-Star Jazz Revue next Saturday night at the Coliseum,” and called it “the greatest jazz concert that has ever been sent on tour.” The newspaper called Smith “a phonograph star of the first rank” and claimed that she “has done more than any other singer perhaps in America to popularize the genuine ‘blues’ song of the day.” The writer continued to laud Smith for her ability to make songs into “living, potent things charged with a pulsing and individual rhythm.” The paper reported that the popularity of her record had made Richmond residents excited to see her perform live and that they were expecting a “sold-out house when she reaches this city.”

Jazz Revue Seats On Sale Wednesday," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921, 4.
Jazz Revue Seats On Sale Wednesday,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Perhaps the most interesting article in the Palladium was the one that appeared the following day, April 19, and covered not Smith but the revue company traveling with her. Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds were the headlining, crowd-drawing act, but her tour included other acts as well: dancers, vaudevillian comedians, and minstrel performers. The appearance of a newly-minted  blues and jazz star on the same stage as the historically popular minstrel performers marks and intersection of trends in African American music and performance history. While minstrel performers had both conformed to stereotypes out of employment necessity and defied them through their self-presentation (learn more), Mamie Smith’s rise to stardom ushered in a new era of music divas who presented themselves as upper class, educated, rich, and demanding of respect.

Obrecht writes:

While blues music had been performed in the American South since the very beginning of the twentieth century, no one had made recordings of it before, largely due to racism and the assumption that African-Americans couldn’t – or wouldn’t – buy record players or 78s. “Crazy Blues” changed all that, sparking a mad scramble among record execs to record blues divas. The stars they promoted in this short-lived era of “classic blues” were not the down-home country singers who’d record later in the Roaring Twenties, but the glittering, glamorous, and savvy veterans of tent shows, minstrel troupes, and the vaudeville stage. These mavericks defied stereotypes…

"Colored Star Wears Exprensive Creations," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 22, 1921, 11.
“Colored Star Wears Exprensive Creations,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 22, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

As if in response to this very idea, on April 22 the Palladium followed the coverage of the revue with an article detailing the glamorous appearance and presentation of Smith. The newspaper stated that through her record royalties “the popular young colored star is enabled to indulge her fancy in the latest creations both from Paris and New York, and in each city in which she has appeared a gasp of astonishment has greeted her every appearance, for her gowns are described as riots of color and beauty.”

In a telling sentence, the article called Smith “one of the most gorgeously dressed stars of the musical comedy world.”  This notes both the respect for her appearance and success and a misunderstanding of her role in music history.  While African American music fans were connecting to Smith’s sincere and authentic portrayal of the blues music that they grew up with, this white Midwestern newspaper still saw her as part of the vaudeville and perhaps even minstrel genres — understandably perhaps since it was marketed as such.  While Smith had come from such a tradition, through her work with the blues and and jazz performers she had transcended her past.  Black newspapers understood her importance much earlier than white newspapers.  On March 13, 1920, the Chicago Defender wrote:

Well, you’ve all heard the famous stars of the white race chirping their stuff on the different makes of phonograph records . . . but we have never – up to now – been able to hear one of our own ladies deliver the canned goods. Now we have the pleasure of being able to say that at last they have recognized the fact that we are here for their service; the OKeh Phonograph Company has initiated the idea by engaging the handsome, popular and capable vocalist, Mamie Gardner Smith.

Similarly, the African American gospel, jazz, and blues music Thomas A. Dorsey explained, “Colored singing and playing artists are riding to fame and fortune with the current popular demand for ‘blues’ disk recordings and because of the recognized fact that only a Negro can do justice to the native indigo ditties such artists are in demand.”

There were African American audience members at the Richmond performance, who likely had a better understanding of the significance of Smith’s success.  The Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram reported: “The best seats are selling fast from the plat at Weisbrod Music company as white and colored folk alike are wager to see and hear the ‘Queen of the Blues,’ a capacity house is predicted for Saturday night.”

Unfortunately, there are no extant issues of the historic African American newspaper the Indianapolis Recorder for this period. It would be interesting to explore the differences in the coverage of Smith’s performances between a white and black newspaper and perhaps this could be accomplished using the Chicago Defender, but is outside the scope of this post.

As expected, Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds sold-out the Richmond Coliseum, which held 2,500 people, for the April 23, 1921 performance.  The next year, the KKK also sold-out the same venue.  The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram reported on December 12, 1922 that a crowd awaiting a Klan rally “taxed the space at the Coliseum waiting for the ceremonies quite a long time before the Klansmen finally arrived.”  So how was the white population of Richmond able to enjoy an African American musician one year and then attend a Klan rally the next?

While this contradiction may seem surprising, there was (and some argue still is) a tendency for white Americans to de-contextualize African American music from African American culture.  That is, the white residents of Richmond were able to appreciate black music while continuing to oppress black people.  There has been much written on this topic (two good places to start are Imamu Amiri Baraka‘s The Music: reflections on Jazz and Blues and Perry Hall’s “African American Music: Dynamics of Appropriation and Innovation“) and an extensive analysis of Smith’s career through this lens is outside the scope of this post.  However, advertisements continued after her performance, from which we can draw that she was a hit regardless of why.  Notice the advertisement claims that there was “a capacity audience.”

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 25, 1921, 5
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 25, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

While we were unable to find an article reviewing the Richmond performance or the crowd’s reception, it likely went well because she returned to Indiana the next month.  On May 31, 1921, she performed to another capacity crowd at the Oliver Theater in South Bend.  The South Bend News-Times covered her performance in much the same manner as the Richmond Palladium.  The paper noted in various articles, her fame, her genius, and her status as “the first colored girl artist to attain world-wide fame as a singer and phonograph record star.”

Mamie Smith’s importance to music history is hard to overstate, according to a story on NPR’s All Things Considered for which famed activist Angela Davis (now a professor at University of California/Santa Cruz ) was interviewed.  Davis summed up Smith’s importance succinctly:

“The recording of ‘Crazy Blues’ led the way for the professionalization of black music, for the black entertainment industry, and indeed for the immense popularity of black music today.”

Search Hoosier State Chronicles for yourself to find more on Mamie Smith in Indiana. For more on Mamie Smith’s long career see Jas Orbrecht’s well-researched article, “Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues.”

“America First:” The Ku Klux Klan Influence on Immigration Policy in the 1920s

This article was originally published, in revised form, on June 20, 2019 at the Hoosier State Chronicles blog.

United States immigration laws reflect a long history of debate over who should be included and excluded in differing visions of American identity. In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act or the Immigration Act of 1924, “a measure which was a legislative expression of the xenophobia, particularly towards eastern and southern European immigrants, that swept America in the decade of the 1920s.”[1] This legislation drastically limited immigration to the United States through a quota system that targeted specific groups for exclusion. While the annual quota for German immigrants was set at over 51,000 people, the quota for Syrian immigrants, for example, was 100 people.[2] Thus, U.S. policy officially distinguished between races and backgrounds of people included or excluded as future Americans. The Ku Klux Klan was crucial to the passage of this legislation, which had dire consequences for those seeking asylum in the U.S. over the following decades in which the quota system remained in place.

Fiery Cross, April 25, 1924, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In the 1920s, the Klan spread across the United States and especially thrived in Indiana. Historian James Madison explains that the Klan was especially successful at recruiting Hoosiers. As many as one in four white Protestant men born in the state were Klan members by one estimate. And some of these men were in positions of political power. In considering past debates over immigration, it’s worth re-examining the Klan’s stance on the subject. Why? Because the Klan of the 1920s was an influential mainstream movement. And those Hoosiers who put on robes and lit up the night with their fiery crosses were representative of the feelings of much of the population of the state.[3]

The first Klan, which emerged after the Civil War was a Southern terrorist organization led by former Confederate soldiers aimed at suppressing African Americans with intimidation and violence. The Klan that reemerged in the 1920s purposefully evoked the imagery of the Reconstruction Era Klan to instill fear in its “enemies,” but was much different. It was not a band of rogue vigilantes, but a nationwide organization composed of average white, Protestant Americans. It included farmers, bankers, railroad workers, suffragists, ministers, mayors, and governors. The second Klan also largely abandoned violence for civic action. They dressed their anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, antisemitic message in patriotism and Christian righteousness. Wearing their white robes and masks, they held picnics and parades, attended church and funerals. For many white Protestant Americans, the Ku Klux Klan was a respectable pastime for the whole family. [4]

Fiery Cross, December 21, 1923, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Because the Klan published their newspaper, the Fiery Cross, for several years in Indianapolis, we know a lot about who joined, what exactly they believed and feared about immigration and race, and what they did to prevent people from certain countries from becoming Americans. The Fiery Cross served both as an official mouthpiece of the national organization and as a source for local Klan news. The Indiana State Library also has a large collection of Klan documents. In conversation, these sources paint a clear picture of Klan beliefs and influence on both Indiana and national policy.

Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Kloran, 1916, United Klans of America Collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, Indiana State Library. Also accessible digitally at Archive.org.

In an early KKK handbook, called the Kloran, the national organization suggested ten questions that must be answered satisfactorily before “naturalizing” a new member. Most of them asked about the potential member’s allegiance to the U.S. government and Christian principles with questions such as:

Do you esteem the United States of America and its institutions above any other government, civil, political or ecclesiastical, in the whole world?

The “ecclesiastical” reference in this question is to the Roman Catholic Church. The Klan claimed that Catholic immigrants to the U.S. served the Pope who headed a conspiracy to undermine American values. Thus they were not loyal American citizens. This anti-Catholic sentiment and rhetoric was especially strong in the Midwestern Klan, as seen in the pages of the Fiery Cross. However, not all of the membership questions veiled their hateful message. One question asked potential members bluntly:

Do you believe in and will you faithfully strive for the eternal maintenance of white supremacy?

In their minds, the white supremacy the Klan valued so dearly was presently under attack. Like the earlier Reconstruction Klan, the 1920s Klan viewed African Americans as members of an inferior race. In Indiana, members worried about the mixing of white and black races, especially as young Hoosiers gained access to cars, jazz clubs, and Hollywood movies. [5] In 1922, the Fiery Cross blamed jazz for “inflaming the animal passions of romance-seeking youth.” And in 1924, the newspaper declared, “At this time the whole civilized structure is being threatened by the mixing of the white and black races.” It continued:

It is God’s purpose that the white man should preserve purity of blood and white supremacy in this country. Those who would have it otherwise or show leniency toward the mixing of white and colored races do not deserve the respect of anyone, much less of those who are trying to preserve American institutions, ideals and principles. A mongrel race and a mongrel civilization mean decay and ruin.

Fiery Cross, May 16, 1923, 3, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Thus, throughout Klan literature, any reference to Christian virtue or Protestant values, should be understood as being imbued with white supremacy. The Klan believed that God valued people of Anglo-Saxon, German, and Scandinavian decent more than people of other backgrounds. And they believed that it was their sacred duty to protect white domination of the U.S. For the Midwestern Klan, the main obstacle to this goal was not African Americans. Many Indiana towns had small numbers of Black residents, and there were plenty of institutionalized practices and laws in place by the 1920s to suppress African Americans. The Klan helped to keep these as standard practice. However, they saw immigrants, mainly Catholics but also Jews, as the main threat to a white, Protestant America. [6]

Fiery Cross, September 21, 1923, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

D. C. Stephenson, the recently appointed Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, clearly laid out the organization’s stance on immigration in a September 1923 speech to Hoosier coal miners. The Fiery Cross printed Stephenson’s address in its entirety under the headline “Immigration is Periling America.” First, he distinguished between “old” and “new” immigrants. The old immigrants were the Anglo-Saxon, German, and Scandinavian “progenitors of the Republic of America” who brought their strong work ethic and “social, moral, and civic ideals” to the new land. Omitting any mention of native peoples or the contributions of the many other immigrant groups who helped found the United States, Stephenson continued to provide the history of an imagined past created solely by and for white people.

William Arthur Swift, “Ku Klux Klan Gathering of Muncie Klan No. 4,” photograph, 1922, W. A. Swift Photographs Collection, Ball State University Libraries, https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/swift/id/700

Second, Stephenson plainly identified the enemy of white Protestant America as the “new” immigrants who were arriving in “greater in numbers” than the “old” immigrants.  These “new” immigrants were “from the races of southern and eastern Europe.”

Third, he cited the various ways that the “new immigrant has been shown to be much inferior to the older type and to the native American stock.” By “native American,” Stephenson meant white European people who immigrated in previous generations, not the native Indian peoples who originally called North America home. Using examples based in the (later discredited) pseudo-science of eugenics, Stephenson furthered his argument about the inherent inferiority of  the “new” immigrants.[7] Eugenicists assumed that some traits like mental illness or poverty could be prevented by limiting reproduction of people demonstrating such traits in order to breed a better race of humans.[8]

For Klan leaders, however, the language of eugenics gave them “scientific facts” to present as evidence for the need for blocking immigration. In his speech, Stephenson presented reports from eugenicists claiming that the “new” immigrants were less intelligent and more prone to mental disorders and criminal tendencies. Stephenson cited a report by influential eugenicist Harry H. Laughlin, who was essential in shaping both eugenics legislation and immigration restriction. [9] Stephenson used Laughlin’s “elaborate statistics” throughout his speech, claiming:

In reference to feeblemindedness, insanity, crime, epilepsy, tuberculosis and deformity, the older immigrant stocks are vastly sounder than the recent.

and

The countries which ran lowest in crime are those which have contributed most to the elementary foundation of the population of the United States – such as Great Britain, Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands . . . Those immigrant groups that run high in crime are from the countries of southern and eastern Europe’

The conclusion he intended his listeners to draw from such reports was that these  people must be excluded from the country. Stephenson stated:

My friends, the significance of authoritative statements like these can hardly be overestimated. Unrestricted immigration would appear to result in a gradual contraction of our native American stock.

Fourth, Stephenson claimed that English, German, and Scandinavian “old immigrants” spread out across the country, establishing farming communities. On the other hand, the “new” immigrants settled only in already congested cities and refused to assimilate. And finally, Stephenson claimed, in these cities, the immigrant was to blame for a decreased standard of living and reduction in wages. He continued:

There is no assimilation to American standards and ideals, in the case of the great majority of the newer immigrants. Masses of human beings of inferior races, ignorant of all the ideals which Americans hold dear, are poured into our factories as so much raw material – and they are not ‘digested.’ The new immigrant comes here as a foreigner and he remains a foreigner – a citizen of a lower class, who, just as the negro, is a constant menace to the standards of civilization which Americans hold dear.

The solution was clear. The powerful Klan, with its millions of members, demanded in 1923 that “the next Congress must adopt a permanent immigration law.” Stephenson concluded his speech to the Indiana coal miners:

So the unchecked importation now of hordes of southern Europeans will bring its inevitable harvest in fearfully deteriorating the character of the American nation of the future. The immigration policy which we adopt today will not produce its vital effects at once; these will come a generation or two later, and the American citizenship, American standards of living and American qualities of manhood and womanhood of that time will be largely dependent upon the character of the racial stock that today we permit to become the percentage of the nation.

William Arthur Swift, “Ku Klux Klan Women’s Auxiliary Rally in New Castle, Indiana,” photograph, 1923, W. A. Swift Photographs Collection, Ball State University Archives and Special Collections, https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/swift/id/622.

Hoosier Klan members were on board with this message, despite the fact that Indiana’s own immigration history proved the racist claims false at every turn. For example, Jews like John Jacob Hays, an Indiana agent for the U.S. government, were among the first of European descent to settle in the Northwest Territory. Jewish Hoosier Samuel Judah settled in Vincennes in 1818 began the first of his five terms in the state legislature in 1827.[10] Black Hoosiers were also among the first to clear and farm Indiana land in communities across the state, building thriving communities like Roberts Settlement by the 1830s.[11] Catholic immigrants to Indiana like Saint Theodora Guerin in 1840 braved the wilderness and prejudice to establish schools and orphanages.[12] And at the same time the Fiery Cross claimed that immigrants were responsible for draining the economy, Terre Haute newspapers praised the Syrian immigrants to their community on the Wabash River for stimulating the local economy.[13] The examples of immigrant contributions to the Hoosier state are endless. But despite the local lessons to be learned, many Hoosiers held on to their prejudices. And the Indiana Klan gave them an outlet.

William Arthur Swift, “Ku Klux Klan Initiation and Cross Burning,” photograph, 1922, W. A. Swift Photographic Collection, Ball State University and Special Collections, https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/swift/id/724

How do we know that the average Hoosier who joined the Klan, actually supported this message of white supremacy? One way Indiana Klan members made their support public and highly visible was through large and elaborate parades. In September 1923, the Fiery Cross reported that between 1,200 and 1,500 Klansmen marched in a “huge parade” through the main streets of Terre Haute. They were led by the Terre Haute No. 7 Klan band. Signs on floats read “Uphold the Constitution” and “America First.” Local police helped handle traffic and a traction company provided “special cars” to transport Klansmen and women to “the Klan grounds, north of the city.” Here there were speakers and new member initiation ceremonies for “several hundred candidates.” While these new Hoosier Klan members took their oaths of allegiance, “a fiery cross was lighted.”

Fiery Cross, May 23, 1924, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In July 1923, the Fiery Cross reported on a huge Ku Klux Klan gathering in Kokomo. The city hosted “a throng in excess of any ever before entertained by an Indiana city, not excepting Indianapolis on Speedway day,” with Klan members coming from surrounding states as well. At this meeting Klan leaders announced “the establishment of a stated organization for the Hoosiers” and “charters granted to each and ever county in Indiana” for local Klan “klaverns.” The Fiery Cross continued:

Americanism has engulfed the Hoosier state and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana has been as a tidal wave.

In October 1923, the Fiery Cross claimed 10,000 people turned out for a Klan parade in Bloomington organized by the Monroe County Klan and the Women of the Ku Klux Klan. In November, Klan members held a similar event in Fort Wayne. And the Fiery Cross estimated that 100,000 would attend the night parade of Klansmen in May 1924 in Indianapolis, marching from the State Fairgrounds, to  Monument Circle, led by Klan bands and drum corp.

Fiery Cross, June 27, 1924, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Klan grew their membership in other ways too. Donning robes and masks, they marched into churches and made donations to grateful ministers. They held picnics and social events. They showed Klan propaganda movies.[14] Klan bands recorded albums and Indianapolis even had a KKK  record store, the American Record Shop. Members advocated for prohibition of alcohol and supported prayer in school, issues that especially interested women. Thus, the number of women’s Klan groups increased across the state as well.

Fiery Cross, September 21, 1923, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Not all Klan members hid behind costumes. Many felt comfortable taking off their hoods in pictures or running an ad for their business in the Fiery Cross. While some business owners advertised in order to avoid boycott, others proudly proclaimed that their business was “100 per cent American” or incorporated the letters “KKK” into the ad.

Fiery Cross, December 21, 1923, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles
Fiery Cross, February 23, 1923, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Some mainstream newspapers, such as the Indianapolis Times, were harsh critics of the Klan. But others ran ads for Klan gatherings or speakers on “the principles of 100 per cent Americanism.” Some mainstream newspapers may have even ran more subtle versions of the “100 Per Cent” ads for businesses sympathetic to the Klan that ran regularly in the Fiery Cross.

Greencastle Herald, September 21 [left] and November 17, 1923 [right], Hoosier State Chronicles.
These efforts to build membership, influence, and solidarity were successful in Indiana and across much of the country. By 1924, the Klan was a powerful force. They gave white Protestants an organization dedicated to defending the perceived threat to their political and cultural dominance. The more enthusiastic Klansmen used intimidation techniques such as burning crosses on front lawns or stopping cars to search for illegal alcohol.[15] However, they mainly focused their intimidation into written and verbal attacks on immigrants using stereotyping, dehumanizing language, and eugenic pseudo-science. Cloaking their hateful message in patriotism and virtue made it palatable to many.

Cartoon from Denver Post reprinted in Fiery Cross, May 9, 1924, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Klan’s championing of white supremacist principles had real world consequences. To many Indiana politicians, the people had spoken. The Indiana Republican Party was the most sympathetic, but there were Democratic supporters as well. Most politicians were complicit in their failure to denounce the Klan for fear of losing votes, as opposed to any direct participation in the organization. But the Klan did influence Indiana elections. Stephenson openly revealed that the Klan would distribute sample ballots to members with candidates who were favorable to the organization clearly marked.[16] Several candidates won seats directly because the Klan proclaimed their support. Others sympathetic to the Klan won offices perhaps because the Klan had disseminated so much propaganda that voters did not know what to believe. As the Klan accused opposing candidates of various indiscretions, voters may have become confused and apathetic.[17] Regardless of how it was gained, directly or indirectly, their influence prevailed for some time. In fact, Stephenson released the names of several politicians who were Klansmen themselves, including John L. Duvall, the Mayor of Indianapolis, and Ed Jackson, the Governor of the State of Indiana.

Indiana’s congressmen who neither joined nor denounced the Klan still furthered the organization’s “America first” agenda. For example, as governor, Samuel Ralston proved to be a fairly progressive-minded democrat, advocating for women’s suffrage, child labor laws, and workman’s compensation. When he was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1922, he tried to avoid talking about the Klan altogether. Like most moderate Hoosier politicians Ralston was not a Klan member, but he also he never publicly denounced the organization.[18] However, when the Senate voted on the Immigration Act of 1924, Ralston voted in favor of restriction as did his counterpart James Watson.[19] All of Indiana’s representatives had also voted in favor of the bill.[20] President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law May 24, 1924. The President told Congress, “America must be kept American.”[21]

The Immigration Act of 1924 and its quota system remained in effect until 1952. The legislation had dire consequences in the 1930s for the hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution who applied to the United States for immigration visas. Jews were specifically targeted in the legislation as undesirable candidates for refuge and only a handful were admitted. As newspapers reported on the escalating violence and injustices perpetrated by the Nazis, some Americans called for a loosening of the restrictions. However, while the Klan may have disappeared by the 1930s, the nativist and xenophobic attitude of many Americans remained the same as it had been when they wore masks and robes. Fortune magazine took a large poll in 1938 and found that only 5% of Americans wanted to allow “political refugees to come into the United States.”[22] Even a bill requesting a temporary easing of the quotas to rescue child refugees of Nazi terror failed in the Senate. The persecuted Jews of Europe would not find refuge in the United States. Many of those denied entry were murdered in the Holocaust.[23]

With each new shift in demographics throughout American history, certain groups have feared losses of power or wealth. However, those groups who rally around nativism and hate, as powerful as they might grow for a time, lose out to the more powerful vision of America as a leader in justice and democracy. Eventually, eugenics was discounted and its practice outlawed, the quota system overturned, and the Klan was made a laughing stock. Even so, the Klan’s vision of white supremacy and exclusion still simmers beneath the surface of American politics. Vigilant Hoosiers are needed to make sure that never again will we “fear difference and demand a conformity that contradict[s] . . . the state’s best traditions.”[24] According to UCLA’s Re-Imagining Migration project, we live in an age of mass migration and immigration. When we understand that migration is “a shared condition of our past, present, and future” we can “develop the knowledge, empathy and mindsets that sustain inclusive and welcoming communities.”

Update: The Midwest History Association keynote by James Madison cited below is now available to watch: https://www.c-span.org/video/?460982-1/ku-klux-klan-1920s-midwest

Notes

[1] United States House of Representatives, “Historical Highlights: The Immigration Act of 1924,” History, Art & Archives, https://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1901-1950/The-Immigration-Act-of-1924/.
[2]  American Social History Project at City University of New York and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University “Who Was Shut Out? Immigration Quotas, 1925-1927,” History Matters, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/expansion.html.
[3] James Madison, “Flappers and Klansmen Challenge Traditions: The 1920s,” in Hoosiers (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press and Indiana Historical Society Press, 2014), 234-253; James Madison, “Who’s an American? The Rise and Fall of the Klan in the Midwest,” Plenary Address, Fifth Annual Midwestern History Conference, Grand Valley State University, May 31, 2019. In his 2019 address, Madison clearly stated that the 1920s Klan was a mainstream movement at the center, not margins, of the nation’s history.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7]PBS, “Eugenics Movement Reaches Its Height,” A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dh23eu.html.
[8] Indiana Historical Bureau, “1907 Indiana Eugenics Law,” State Historical Marker Text and Notes, https://www.in.gov/history/markers/524.htm. The pseudo-science of eugenics led to mass sterilization in Indiana and elsewhere before it was determined to be a violation of human rights by state and federal courts [
[9] University of Missouri, “Harry Laughlin: Workhorse of the American Eugenics Movement,” Controlling Heredity: The American Eugenics Crusade: 1870-1940, University of Missouri Special Collections and Rare Books, https://library.missouri.edu/exhibits/eugenics/laughlin.htm; Andrea Den Hoed, “The Forgotten Lessons of the American Eugenics Movement,” New Yorker, April 27, 2016, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-forgotten-lessons-of-the-american-eugenics-movement.
Laughlin’s influence was lasting. He later praised Hitler for understanding that the “central mission of all politics is race hygiene.” The Reichstag modeled their eugenics laws after Laughlin’s model and the American eugenicist continued to give support for the Third Reich throughout his life.
[10] American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, “Indiana Jewish History,” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/indiana-jewish-history.
[11] Stephen A. Vincent, “History,” Roberts Settlement, http://www.robertssettlement.org/history.html.
[12] Indiana Historical Bureau, “Saint Theodora Guerin,” Indiana State Historical Marker Text and Notes, https://www.in.gov/history/markers/4330.htm.
[13] Indiana Historical Bureau, “Little Syria on the Wabash,” Indiana State Historical Marker Text and Notes, https://www.in.gov/history/markers/4404.htm.
[14] Madison, Plenary Address, 2019.
[15] Madison, Hoosiers, 247.
[16] Jill Weiss Simins, “Complicity in Neutrality? Samuel Ralston Denies Klan Affiliation, Hoosier State Chronicles Blog, July 17, 2018, https://blog.history.in.gov/samuel-ralston-denies-klan-affiliation/
[16] Jill Weiss Simins, “History Unfolded Part 7: Child Refugees, Hoosier Resistance,” Hoosier State Chronicles Blog, January 25, 2019, https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/tag/immigration-quotas/.
[17] Madison, Hoosiers, 253.
[18] Simins, “Complicity in Neutrality? 2018.
[19] Senate Vote #126 in 1924 (68th Congress) “To Agree to Report of Conference Committee on H.R. 7995 . . .  A Bill to Limit the Immigration of Aliens into the United States, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/68-1/s126.
[20] House Vote #90 in 1924 (68th Congress) “To Agree to the Report of Conference Committee on H.R. 7995, to Limit the Immigration of Aliens into the United States,” https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/68-1/h90.
[21] University of Virginia, “Harding, Coolidge, and Immigration,” July 6, 2016, Miller Center, https://millercenter.org/issues-policy/us-domestic-policy/harding-coolidge-and-immigration.
[22] Jill Weiss Simins, “History Unfolded Part 7: Child Refugees, Hoosier Resistance,” Hoosier State Chronicles Blog, January 25, 2019, https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/tag/we-remember/.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Madison, Hoosiers, 238.

The Love Story That Built St. Mary Catholic Church

Tony Valainis, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 2008, IUPUI Image Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.

St. Mary Catholic Church is an architectural gem. Its gothic towers help define the downtown Indianapolis skyline, while its bells call the faithful to worship. For its congregation certainly, but also for those dining and shopping in the Mass. Ave. Cultural District, the cathedral provides a moment of stately beauty in the urban landscape. But St. Mary’s is more than an elegant building. It is a love story—one set into motion by a kind matchmaking priest.

Hermann Joseph Gaul, n.d., personal collection of Lisa Dillman Wright, accessed AncestryLibrary.com

Herman (also spelled Hermann) J. Gaul was born in Germany in 1869 and immigrated to the United States in the late 1880s.[1] He was a devoted Catholic who loved the architecture of Germany’s churches, especially the Cathedral of Cologne. From an early age, he aimed to bring this gothic vision to the Midwest. In the early 1890s, he began an apprenticeship with the renowned Chicago architect Louis Sullivan.[2] In 1891, Sullivan’s Chicago firm sent Gaul to Indianapolis for several months to supervise the building of a new plant for the Home Brewing Company.[3]

Home Brewing Company Brew-House, 1900-1910, Ray Hinz Collection, courtesy of Indiana Album, accessed Indiana Memory.

The beer company incorporated in the summer of 1891 with $200,000 in stocks from notable residents. Construction, at a cost of $70,000, began soon after. The company was influential enough to garner city permission to construct a switch that would allow shipping via railroad right out of its backyard—not without some objection over this “bow to the brewers” from temperance factions in the city. The Home Brewing Company began operations early in 1892 and was a huge financial success.[4]

Indiana Tribüne, July 24, 1892, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

For the local business community, this ambitious and visible project made Gaul a young architect to watch. For the ladies of Indianapolis’s German Catholic community, it would have made him a fetching romantic prospect. And luckily for Gaul, the 1890s were actually a great time to fall in love.

Romance Card, 1912, Greeting Car Collection, Vigo County Historical Society, accessed Indiana Memory.

In previous eras, women’s labor was necessary for a couple’s survival and a man seeking a wife looked for someone who would make an economic contribution to the farm or family business—regardless of his personal feelings for her. On the flip side, a young woman’s family would make a similar financially-minded decision, using her to link two families together to build wealth — regardless of the bride’s feelings for her groom. Of course, financial concerns never disappeared from matchmaking, but by the eighteenth century, love became more central to a match, and romantic marriage became more common.

Nineteenth century conventions placed more emphasis on the husband as breadwinner and wife as homemaker. And while this social construct had some serious political and economic disadvantages for women, it did allow for the consideration of romantic love in choosing one’s spouse. [5] Gaul’s luck at being born in this period and his dedication to his faith soon led to his own romantic match.

Anthony Scheideler, German-Language Family Bible, 1830-1885, Indiana State Library Genealogy Collection, accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

When he arrived in Indianapolis in 1891, Gaul knew that he wanted to stay in the home of a respectable German Catholic family as opposed to a hotel or boarding house. He was also eager to find a spiritual home. He looked to St. Mary, the heart of the German Catholic community, located at that time on Maryland Street. Indianapolis German Catholics and regional Catholic leadership had organized this church for German-speaking congregants in the 1850s. In addition to serving the community’s spiritual needs, St. Mary was also the cultural hub for the local German immigrant community, hosting concerts, theatrical performances, and festivals featuring traditional German food and entertainment.[6]

Rev. Scheideler, Indianapolis News, October 11, 1918, 18, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Gaul’s first stop in his new city was the home of Father Anthony Scheideler, pastor at St. Mary since 1874. Father Scheideler knew his congregants well. So when Gaul asked him to recommend a nice family who might take him in as a boarder and who lived near the Home Brewing Company construction site, Scheideler immediately had the right fit: the Seiter family. They were also of German origin and described by Scheideler as “one of the best families in my parish.”[7] Christopher Seiter, the patriarch, owned a saloon, while his wife, Cecelia, took care of the home and their children. In his two months with the Seiters, the young architect fell in love with their daughter, Mary, who was about sixteen years old, seven years younger than Gaul. He was smitten but would have to be patient for several more years. With a smile on his face that the pastor remembered decades later, Gaul told Father Scheideler:

I am going back to Chicago, but I shall return soon. I have found the oldest daughter of Mr. Seiter very interesting.[8]

Father Scheideler was pleased with the match. It’s not clear how often Gaul returned to visit Mary or if they stayed in touch mainly by mail, but he kept his promise to return. On April 22, 1896, Father Scheideler officiated the wedding of Herman Gaul and Mary Seiter at St. Mary Catholic Church.[9]

“Personal and Society,” Indianapolis Journal, April 14, 1896, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On his wedding day, Gaul thanked the pastor for connecting him “to such an estimable family” and told him he would never forget his kindness. He vowed:

If you ever build a new church, Father Scheideler, I will be the architect.[10]

It seemed like the kind of lofty promise a young man would make on an emotional day, and the pastor “laughed and thanked the enthusiastic young architect but gave no further thought to his promise.”[11]

R.W.R. Capes, Sacred Heart Church, n.d., architect: Herman J. Gaul, Building a Nation: Indiana Limestone Photograph Collection, Indiana University Bloomington, accessed Indiana Memory.

Gaul and his new wife moved to Chicago. He opened his own architecture firm and grew his career over the following decade, building a half dozen churches as well as schools, orphanages, and hospitals for German institutions around the Midwest. One major commission, St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, Illinois, stood proudly on an elevated site with “romantic ambience.”[12]

Over the following years, Herman and Mary Gaul welcomed seven children. Unsurprisingly, Mary’s name doesn’t appear in newspapers outside of a real estate transfer (along with Herman’s name). She seems to have been busy taking care of her large family with little time to lead a literary or church club that would have landed her coverage in newspapers. But we can assume their marriage was a happy one, since Gaul still felt inspired by it to fulfill the promise he made in Indianapolis.[13]

Turn Verein Eiche, n.d., American Turners Local Societies Collection, IUPUI Digital Collections, accessed Indiana Memory.

Meanwhile in the Circle City, the German immigrant population continued to grow, as did the congregation of St. Mary Catholic Church. Father Scheideler knew he would soon need a bigger building. In 1906, the pastorate purchased land at the intersection of Vermont and New Jersey as a future investment with “no thought of building immediately entertained.”[14] Nonetheless, local newspapers printed news of the transfer.

Sanborn Insurance Maps of Indianapolis, Vol. 1, 1914, Library of Congress, accessed Historical Information Gatherers via Indiana State Library.

Father Scheideler may have “practically forgot Herman Gaul and his promise to draw the plans for a new St. Mary’s,” but Gaul had not forgotten. When the architect read about the new St. Mary property in the newspaper, he quickly left for Indianapolis. Father Sheideler opened his door and there was Gaul, again wearing that memorable smile. The architect said, “I have come to make good my promise to draw plans for a new St. Mary’s.” Father Sheideler told him that unfortunately they did not yet have the funding to build, but Gaul was undeterred. He replied, “Well, I am going to draw the plans anyhow, true to my word.”[15]

James Palik, Cologne Cathedral, Germany, photograph, n.d., UNESCO World Heritage Centre, accessed https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/292/.

The two men spent hours chatting and catching up and soon discovered that they were both born near the Cathedral of Cologne in Germany. Gaul shared that he had dreamed of building a church like it since he was a boy—a building that would “bear the stamp of its beauty.” Father Sheideler doubted that such a feat was possible but the architect said simply, “Well, we shall try.”[16]

Several months later the driver of an express wagon arrived at the pastor’s door bearing a large package: Gaul’s plan for “a miniature cathedral of Cologne” in Indianapolis. Father Scheideler shared the plans with leading St. Mary congregants and “Herman Gaul’s dream for a new St. Mary’s spread through the parish.”[17]

Indianapolis News, September 9, 1912, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

In spring 1910, clergy and parishioners, assisted by hundreds of Catholic school children, broke ground on a new location for St. Mary’s at Vermont and New Jersey Streets.[18] That fall, the congregation laid the cornerstone.[19] By July 1912, the new building was complete. The Indianapolis News ran a feature on its architecture with the headline: “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge to Plan for the St. Mary’s Parish a Miniature Cathedral of Cologne.”[20]

Indianapolis News, July 6, 1912, accessed Newspapers.com.

While we don’t have a record of Herman’s love for his wife Mary in letters or diaries, we see their love reflected in his tribute to her and to his faith. Recorded for posterity in the architecture of St. Mary is one German immigrant’s joy at finding a partner to share his Catholic faith and German traditions, and with whom he built a family and home in addition to a church. And he owed it all to one savvy matchmaker, Father Scheideler, who just might have known what he was doing from the start.

Notes

[1] Passport Application, September 7, 1893, No. 4331,  Roll 410, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com;  Twelfth Census of the United States, June 14, 1900, Chicago Ward 14, Cook County, Illinois, roll 262, page 13, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com. On his passport application, Gaul declared he immigrated to the U.S. in 1886.

[2] Edward R. Kantowicz, “To Build the Catholic City,” Chicago History 14, No. 3 (Fall 1985): 14, accessed Chicago History Museum.

[3] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge to Plan for the St. Mary’s Parish A Miniature Cathedral of Cologne,” Indianapolis News, July 6, 1912, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

[4] “Articles of Incorporation,” Indianapolis Journal, June 23, 1891, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Minor City Matters,” Indianapolis Journal, August 26, 1891, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Bow to the Brewers,” Indianapolis Journal, November 3, 1891, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Industrial Notes,” Indianapolis Journal, January 4, 1892, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[5] “The History of Romance,” February 13, 2017, National Women’s History Museum, accessed https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/history-romance.

[6] “Religious Ceremony,” Indianapolis State Sentinel, August 26, 1857, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Laying of the Corner Stone of the German Catholic Church,” Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, September 1, 1857, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; No title, Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, May 14, 1858, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “The German Catholic Church, Maryland,” Daily State Sentinel, August 13, 1858, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; McEvoy’s Indianapolis City Directory and Business Mirror (Indianapolis: H. N. McEvoy Publisher, 1858), 219, accessed IUPUI Library Digital Collections; “Dedication,” Daily State Sentinel, September 12, 1859, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[7] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Personal and Society,” Indianapolis Journal, April 14, 1896, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[10] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kantowicz, 14.

[13] Conclusion gleaned from searching census records and Chicago newspapers.

[14] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[15-17] Ibid.

[18] “Church Ground Broken,” Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1910, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[19] “Lays Cornerstone of New St. Mary’s,” Indianapolis Star, October 24, 1910, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

[20] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

Physicist Melba N. Phillips: Indiana’s Oppenheimer Connection

 

Melba Phillips at Berkley, 1930, photo courtesy of Ellen and John Vinson, accessed Physics in Perspective 10 (2008).

Physicist and educator Dr. Melba Phillips of Pike County, Indiana was an esteemed colleague of J. Robert Oppenheimer and important innovator in her own right. The two young scientists introduced a foundational physics principle, the Oppenheimer-Phillips Process, before taking separate paths. Phillips became an influential educator while Oppenheimer . . . well, I don’t want to spoil the movie for you. And while Phillips does not appear in the film, she did play an important role in the “heroic age” of physics, especially those exciting years that she and Oppenheimer spent at the University of California, Berkeley.

Melba Newell Phillips was born in 1907 in Pike County to a family of teachers. She graduated early from Union High School and enrolled at Oakland City College (now University) in Gibson County. There she benefitted from several important mentors, developed foundational math and science skills (though she recalled learning more physics from textbooks than her professor), and pushed back against conservative rules and instructors. This independence and refusal to compromise would serve her later in life. [1]

After graduating in 1926, Phillips taught briefly at Union High School before accepting a teaching fellowship at Battle Creek College in Michigan. She taught classes and filled in the gaps in her physics education by taking advanced courses. She earned her master’s degree in 1928 at the age of twenty one. In the summer of 1929 she attended a symposium on theoretical physics at the University of Michigan taught by Edward U. Condon, a distinguished and innovative physicist who would later join the Manhattan Project. Phillips impressed Condon and on his recommendation was accepted to the PhD program at the University of California Berkley in 1930. [2]

There was no better place for a young physicist in the 1930s than Berkeley. After World War I, the university devoted abundant resources to the physics department. They hired innovative scientists as teachers and built cutting-edge facilities to encourage experimentation. For example, the university hired renowned scientist Ernest Lawrence, who in 1931 invented the famous cyclotron, a particle accelerator that allowed the user to smash open atomic nuclei. Lawrence worked with his fellow faculty members Emilio Segre and Owen Chamberlain using both theoretical physics and the cyclotron to confirm the existence of the antiproton. All three received the Nobel Prize and joined the Manhattan Project.[3]

J. Robert Oppenheimer at Berkeley, 1948, gelatin silver print, Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006), Gift of David Newman and Deirdre Steinberg, © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images 1948, 2006.84.3, accessed the Portland Art Museum.

The faculty member who worked most closely with Phillips, greatly influenced her, and became a lifelong friend: the renowned J. Robert Oppenheimer. He had come to Berkeley as an assistant professor of physics in the summer of 1929, shortly before Phillips. He taught theoretical physics, an area in which Berkeley was weak. Oppenheimer explained that he didn’t teach students to prepare them for careers, but instead was motivated by including them in the unsolved problems of the physics world.  He stated:

I didn’t start to make a school. I didn’t start to look for students. I started really as a propagator of the theory which I loved, about which I continued to learn more, and which was not well understood and which was very rich. The pattern was not that of someone who takes on a course and teaches students preparing for a variety of careers but of explaining first to faculty, staff, and colleagues and then to anyone who would listen, what this was about, what had been learned, what the unsolved problems were. [4]

Phillips was profoundly drawn to solving the unknown, something she had ruminated on as an undergrad. Oppenheimer was the perfect mentor for her curious nature and ambition.

By 1931, Phillips had chosen two topics within the field of experimental physics to study and work into her doctoral dissertation.  (Experimental physics is the branch of the field dealing with observation of physical phenomenon through experimentation to test a theory. In turn, these experiments further shape new theories. They are symbiotic sub-disciplines.) As theoretical physics was Oppenheimer’s area of expertise, he became her advisor, and almost immediately, her friend. By 1933, she had worked both of her topics into a dissertation–each of which could had been a dissertation unto itself, according to her peers. [5] Physicists Dwight Neuenschwander and Sallie Watkins explained:

Melba was not the kind of physicist who enters a new field, picks all the low-hanging fruit, and moves on. Rather, the fruit that Melba harvested required her to climb high into some very tall trees. She solved difficult problems, and was a stickler for detail, to do the job right . . . Melba asked genuine questions in her papers. To answer them she invoked fundamental principles, then developed them with sophisticated calculations and insightful approximations and, quite often, with numerical integrations that had to be done by hand because programmable computers had not yet been invented.[6]

Even before her dissertation was finished, several academic journals published Phillips’s work. She had begun to make a name for herself in the physics world and had made herself the peer of her mentor. In 1933, Oppenheimer called her “an extraordinarily able woman” with “a genuine vocation for mathematics and theoretical physics, and an outstanding talent for it.” [7]  He praised her “difficult and important” contributions to theoretical physics while studying at Berkeley and stated that he could “fully recommend her as a valuable member of any university physics department in the country,” although he would “regard it as a very real loss” t0 his department.[8] A full-time job remained elusive, in part because of the Great Depression, but gender discrimination undoubtedly contributed. After earning her Ph.D. in 1933, Dr. Phillips stayed nominally employed with a combination of work as a research assistant and a part-time instructor. She used her extra time at the university to advance her career.

During this period, Phillips and Oppenheimer worked together on problems of theoretical physics, while their colleague Ernest Lawrence’s experiments using the university’s particle accelerator confirmed their theories. In a 1935 paper, Phillips and Oppenheimer proposed a process that was a type of deuteron-induced nuclear reaction, which became a staple of nuclear physics; the New York Times called the discovery a “basic contribution to quantum theory.” [9] This Oppenheimer-Phillips process, as it was called, explained “what was at the time unexpected behavior of accelerated deuterons (nuclei of deuterium, or ‘heavy hydrogen’ atoms) in reactions with other nuclei.” [10] The paper was widely circulated and praised. The Oppenheimer-Phillips process secured Phillips’s place in the history of physics.

Despite her accomplishments and praise from colleagues, Phillips faced challenges. While she had ascended to the peak of her field in a time of unprecedented progress, she bore the historical burden of gender discrimination within that field. According to science writer Margaret Wertheimer, physics has historically been more resistant to women than other scientific fields because of its quest to discover the truths of the universe that descend from theological traditions. While science and religion have been depicted as at odds during the last few centuries, this was not always the case. As the study of physics developed during the Middle Ages, its goal was a religious one: to understand the ultimate truths of the universe through mathematics. It followed then that the social, cultural, and political forces that prevented women from interpreting sacred texts or entering the clergy applied to the field of physics. [11] Some of these prejudices against women remained in the 1930s.

While Phillips clearly had to deal with the burden of exclusion in the field upon her arrival in Berkeley, she was not always comfortable talking about her experience. In interviews she was careful not to insult the many supportive colleagues while speaking of those who were not. Phillips stated:

As in my first college year I was often the only woman in the class, but classes were never large, and the competition was fun rather than otherwise . . . During the five years I lived in Berkeley four women took PhD’s in physics, and perhaps an equal number stopped with the M.A. . . . Were women discriminated against in the department? It did not seem so, certainly not as students. We had teaching fellowships on par with everyone else. It is true that there was one professor who would not take women assistants but it was no hardship to miss that option. [12]

In the same recollection Phillips referred vaguely to “unfair decisions” made by the university about salaries and stipends, but discounted “overt discrimination on account of sex.”[13] Clearly then, Phillips saw that women were not getting equal access to facilities, credit for discoveries, and pay. In fact, physicist and chemist Francis Bonner, who would go on to work on the Manhattan Project, explained that normally such an accomplishment as publishing a new physics principle considered “one of the classics of early nuclear physics,” would have meant a faculty appointment [14]. Phillips received no such appointment. This could be partly because of her gender and partly because of the depressed economy. So perhaps in interpreting the climate at Berkeley at this time, we should use Phillips’s own words whenever possible. She seemed to distinguish between “unfair practices” and “overt discrimination.” And while the former will persist throughout this examination of her career and its challenges, one example of the latter practically jumps off the pages of national newspapers.

In February 1934, Phillips’s name appeared in headlines across the country, but not for her groundbreaking work in physics. Instead, she appeared in the national press for the first time, infantilized and sexualized as a poor, tearful girl who was nearly scandalized by her professor. This incident is worth examining in some detail not only for further evidence of the prejudice Phillips faced, but also because the story continues to be retold without deeper examination in biographies of Oppenheimer.

On February 14, the Associated Press (AP) reported:

Robert Oppenheimer, 30, physics professor of the University of California, took Miss Melba Phillips of Berkeley, a research assistant, for a ride in the Berkeley hills Monday night. Prof. Oppenheimer then parked the automobile, made Miss Phillips comfortable by wrapping a blanket around her, and said he was going for a walk. Time passed but Miss Phillips waited and waited. Two hours later Policeman Albert Nevin passed by. “My escort went for a walk hours ago and he hasn’t returned,” Miss Phillips told the officer tearfully. [15]

The article continued to state that the police raised an alarm and searched the area to no avail.  Eventually, they looked for Oppenheimer at the faculty club where he lived.  The AP reported:

And there they found him – fast asleep in bed.  “Miss Phillips?” he exclaimed to the officers.  “Oh, my word! I forgot all about her. I just walked and walked, and I was home and I went to bed. I’m so sorry.”[16]

The International News Service (INS) also picked up the story, with some minor tweaks.  In the INS version “Pretty Miss Melba Phillips was found in an automobile in the Berkeley Hills by police at an early hour in the morning.” Oppenheimer had driven her “into the hills to watch the colorful panorama” of a sunrise. After he was found in his quarters, he supposedly stated, “Ah, I forgot Miss Phillips. I just walked home and went to bed.” [17]

Local newspapers included even more questionable details. One article was titled “Absent-Minded Prof. Parks Girl and Then Takes Self Home and to Bed While She Hails Cops For Aid.” The extra details in this article include the following:

Professor Oppenheimer parked the car, wrapped Miss Phillips in a blanket.
“Comfy?” inquired the prof.
“Uh-huh!” said Miss Phillips.
“I’ll be back presently,” said her escort. “I’m going for a walk.”
Miss Phillips waited and waited. The night was dark. Crickets yodled [sic] in the bushes. Insects whirred and crawled. Off in the distance a dog barked. . . Miss Phillips became jittery. Two hours later Policeman Albert Nevin was hailed by a faint feminine voice.
“My escort went for a walk hours ago and he hasn’t returned,” said Miss Phillips tearfully. [18]

The article–rife with action verbs–concludes with a description of the capable policemen.  The cops “hit” the phones, police cars “hurried to the spot,” the men “combed the bushes,” and “searched and sleuthed.” When the article got to the part where they found Oppenheimer at the faculty club, it reported that the professor stated, “Whazzat? Girl? Miss Phillips? Oh, Lord–my word! By George! I forgot all about her.”[19] The implication is that Dr. Phillips, an accomplished physicist and colleague, was solely an object of sexual interest and once the great man’s mind had moved on to other things, she was forgotten, disposable. By emphasizing the “early morning hours” and the automobile parked in a remote location, the newspapers were more than alluding to some sort of sexual relationship. Primary sources refute this allegation.

Phillips’s life experiences and attitude to this point show her as a brave and self-confident young woman. The idea that she would have been tearful because she was left waiting in a car seems unlikely.  Also, she was comfortable in nature. She grew up on a farm surrounded by woods where she knew all the wildflowers and where the morels grew. [20] It’s unlikely she was terrified by the “yodel” of crickets. She had successfully navigated much more trying challenges than spending some unexpected time alone by this by this point in her life.

Melba Phillips at Berkley with J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Car, photograph, circa 1930s, Courtesy of Ellen Vinson, accessed Physics in Perspective 10 (2008).

Another reason to doubt the wire services’ version of this story is that Phillips was an experienced driver. Several photographs of Phillips taken at Berkeley show her driving Oppenheimer’s car or posing confidently next to it. Another time, she and another colleague went out driving when they ran over a milk bottle and flattened a tire. Her colleague went to find a mechanic and when they returned Phillips had changed the tire and was relaxing in the car.  As her colleague remembered, “Melba could be handy with a wrench.” [21] If Phillips had wanted to go home or go searching for the missing Oppenheimer, she would have felt perfectly comfortable driving the car.

“Melba Phillips Sits at the Wheel of Robert Oppenheimer’s Car,” photograph, circa 1930s, Courtesy of AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, accessed Society of Physics Students, spsnational.org

Its perhaps not shocking that newspapers crafted such a salacious story in 1934. What is surprising is that biographers of Oppenheimer continued to cite these articles as evidence of a romantic relationship. For example, the authors of the Pulitzer Prize winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote: “For a short time, Robert dated his doctoral student Melba Phillips, and one evening he drove her out to Grizzly Peak, in the Berkeley hills.” The authors then go on to rely on the wire services’ version of events described previously. They cite no other sources as evidence that the colleagues had a romantic relationship. [22]

Further evidence of a strictly collegial relationship comes from Oppenheimer’s letters. Oppenheimer describes Phillips, or “Melber,” as he sometimes called her, as only a professional colleague or simply a friend.  In January 1932, Oppenheimer wrote Ernst Lawrence stating that Phillips was doing well and had written him “of some new evidence on the degree of disassociation of potassium . . . Her paper is nearly written up.”[23] In the Fall of 1932, he wrote his brother Frank that “Melber and Lawrence,” among others, “send you greetings.”[24] In January 1935, he wrote his brother concerning theoretical physics problems and noted that “as soon as I get back to Berkeley Melber & I will have a careful look at the calculations.”[25] In Spring 1935, he wrote Lawrence concerning the paper that would define the Oppenheimer-Phillips Process: “I am sending Melba today an outline of the calculations & plots I have made for the deuteron transmutations functions.”[26] In this letter, he noted that Phillips was working out the math calculations for the problem. There is no evidence in these published letters of anything but Oppenheimer’s respect for Phillips as a colleague.

Photo: Collection of Ellen Vinson.

In short, the portrait of Phillips painted by these articles looked nothing like the accomplished physicist and confident young woman she had become. In February of 1934, when these articles ran, Dr. Phillips had completed and defended her Ph.D. dissertation and published a series of papers in academic journals on multi-electron atoms. She was also working for the university as a part-time instructor, while she and Oppenheimer developed their famous process on the “transmutation function for deuterons” and preparing it for publication. But in her first appearance on the national stage, predating the publication of the Oppenheimer-Phillips process by only a few months, she was pretty, helpless, tearful Miss Melba Phillips, the forgotten assistant.  Newspapers across the country were still running the article as late as March.

Despite this wound to her pride, Phillips continued to achieve within her field and went on to become an influential physics educator. But many challenges still lay ahead of her, including advocating for the peaceful application of nuclear energy in the wake of the atomic bomb and facing a Senate subcommittee charging her with communist affiliation during the McCarthy Era. There is much more to learn about Melba Phillips. Check out the state historical marker, additional blog posts, and this podcast episode to learn more.  Or maybe we will see you at the movies this week to see Phillips’s friend Oppenheimer on the big screen.

 

Notes:

[1] Randy Mills, “A Source of Strength and Inspiration: Melba Phillips at Oakland City College,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 30, No. 3 (2018): 38-45.

[2] Dwight E. Neuenschwander and Sallie A. Watkins, “In Appreciation: Professional and Personal Coherence: The Life and Work of Melba Newell Phillips,” Physics in Perspective 10 (2008): 295-364, accessed INSPIRE, Indiana State Library.

[3] “Our History,” Berkeley Physics, University of California, Berkeley, accessed physics.berkeley.edu/about-us/history.

[4] “Oppenheimer: A Life,” J. Robert Oppenheimer Centennial Exhibition, Office for History of Science and Technology, University of California, Berkeley, accessed cstms.berkeley.edu/.

[5] Neuenschwander and Watkins, 305-8.

[6] Ibid., 305.

[7] J. Robert Oppenheimer to May L. Cheney, April 10, 1933 in Neuenschwander and Watkins, 308.

[8] Neuenschwander and Watkins, 302. The authors quote a private letter.

[9] “J. Robert Oppenheimer, Atom Bomb Pioneer, Dies,” New York Times, February 19, 1967, 1, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com.

[10] Press release, “Melba Phillips, Physicist, 1907-2004,” University of Chicago News Office, November 16, 2004, accessed http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/04/041116.phillips.shtml.

[11] Margaret Wertheim, Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995), 9.

[12] Melba Phillips, “Studying Physics in the Thirties – A Personal Recollection,” April 24, 1978, Folder 2: Correspondence, 1948-1999, Box 1, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Press release, “Melba Phillips, Physicist, 1907-2004,” University of Chicago News Office, November 16, 2004, accessed http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/04/041116.phillips.shtml.

[15] “Professor in Adage’s Proof,” Sun Bernardino County Sun, February 14, 1934, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; “Absent Minded Professor Leaves Girl in Car, Walks Home and Retires,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 14, 1934, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Professor True to Form,” Indiana (PA) Gazette, February 14, 1934, accessed Newspapers.com; “Girl Is Left in Auto Parked in Hills By Absent Minded Prof,” (Lebanon, PA) Evening Report, February 14, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[18] “Absent-Minded Prof. Parks Girls And Then Takes Self Home and to Bed While She Hails Cops For Aid,” Santa Cruz Evening News, February 14, 1934, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Lisa L. Williams to Randy Mills, July 13, 2018, personal collection of Randy Mills, professor emeritus, Oakland City University.

[21] Neuenschwander and Watkins, 305.

[22] Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2006), 95-96.

[23] J. Robert Oppenheimer to Ernest Lawrence, January 3, 1932 in Alice Kimball Smith and Charles Weiner, eds., Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections (Harvard University Press, 1980), 147.

[34] J. Robert Oppenheimer to Frank Oppenheimer, Fall 1932 in Kimball and Weiner, 157-8.

[25] J. Robert Oppenheimer to Frank Oppenheimer, January 11, 1935 in Kimball and Weiner, 189.

[26] J. Robert Oppenheimer to Ernest Lawrence, Spring 1935 in Kimball and Weiner, 193.

“The Greater Creed:” How Suffragist Sara Messing Stern Overcame Antisemitism through Verse

Portions of this post first appeared as an article by the author in the Indiana Jewish History journal, published by the Indiana Jewish Historical Society. The complete article, which gives much more information on her suffrage work is available here along with annotations.

Sara Messing Stern, a dedicated suffrage worker and advocate for the poor, was accustomed to being the only Jewish woman in the room. Whether organizing housing relief or mobilizing women for the vote, she applied her steady hand and organizational skills to achieve progressive results. She lived her Jewish values through her work and expressed them through her poetry. She believed that no matter a person’s faith, God called them to care for those less fortunate. For the most part, Stern thrived in the suffrage and women’s club movements, which were dominated by women of various Christian sects. However, as is often the case for Jews, she was accepted by society until she wasn’t. That is, if her peers felt she had gained too much power or if they came into conflict with her ideas, these Christian women were not above using antisemitic language and ideas to dismiss and denigrate her. Yet Stern would rise above their defamation to help Hoosier women win the vote and rebut their slander through poetry.

Indianapolis Star, January 25, 1913, 9, Newspapers.com.

Sara was born to German Jewish immigrants Rica (née Naphtali) and Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Meyer Messing, who was himself an advocate of progressive reform and a supporter of women’s rights, in Indianapolis in 1879. In 1906, Sara married Leon Stern, an auditor for an Indianapolis coal company. While she took her husband’s surname “Stern,” she also kept her maiden name “Messing,” maintaining a link to the Messing ancestral line of prominent rabbis as well as her individual identity. While newspapers sometimes referred to her as “Mrs. Leon Stern,” primary sources show that within the organizations where she held power, she presented herself as “Sara Messing Stern.”

Stern first made her mark in Indianapolis through philanthropy and was especially concerned with the welfare of women and children.  She advocated for reforming child labor laws and tenement housing, and served as a probation officer, aiding juvenile offenders and guiding them back to a productive path. She believed in second chances and recognized that the poor faced great obstacles. She stated in 1912, “I have found in dealing with people who have sinned that we are too quick to judge by what we see done, rather than the things overcome.”

Bretzman, “Grace Julian Clarke,” photograph, 1909, Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

Stern worked with many city charities and was a leading member of the local section of the National Council of Jewish Women. As a Council representative, Stern attended a 1909 reception for the firebrand suffragist Grace Julian Clarke, who had been recently elected president of the Indiana Federation of Clubs. Stern and Clarke would continue to cross paths through club and charitable work over the next few years. In fact, a deepening friendship with Clarke may have brought Stern into more active suffrage work.

In 1911, Stern and her husband moved to Terre Haute, but the move did not prevent Stern from engaging in women’s rights work at a state level. Instead, she increased her influence through the Indiana General Federation of Clubs and the Women’s Franchise League (WFL) over the next several years.  She also served as an officer of the Terre Haute section of the National Council of Jewish Women and as the group’s representative to the other statewide women’s organizations. By 1912, Stern was one of several directors of the WFL and spoke on the organization’s behalf around the state, often joining other prominent suffragists. Stern also served as the treasurer of the Indiana Federation of Clubs, an important position for an outspoken suffragist.

Grace Julian Clarke Women’s Clubs and Suffrage Scrapbook, 1912-1914, accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

The large and influential Federation, which was an umbrella organization for a myriad of women’s clubs, had not yet taken a stance on the suffrage issue. Stern and other suffragists who held leadership positions were able to educate their colleagues and advocate for the vote from inside the organization. For example, in October 1912, when the Federation of Clubs held their annual meeting in Fort Wayne, the WFL held a “suffrage luncheon” at the same hotel as the meeting, providing an opportunity for Federation members to learn about issues surrounding the vote. Clarke and Stern both gave toasts. Clarke’s speech was a straightforward one about lessons from her recent work campaigning for suffrage. Stern responded in jest with a mock anti-suffrage toast titled “I Do Not Need the Vote,” intended to show the absurdity of the opposition’s position, especially when that position was assumed by a woman who would only benefit from increased civic rights.

Indianapolis News, October 28, 1915, 20, Newspapers.com

In her work with the Indiana Federation of Clubs, Stern faced subtle but powerful antisemitism. Suffragists and club leaders were shrewd politicians. They had formed lobbying groups, penned legislation introduced in the Indiana General Assembly, changed the minds of important leaders such as Governor Ralston, and largely tipped the scales of public opinion towards enfranchisement. As with male politicians, the women’s politics sometimes got ugly. While disparaging comments and mudslinging was considered a regular part of campaigning for men, when women engaged in the same traditional, if “unseemly,” tactics, they were labelled as “catty.” The infighting surrounding the 1915 campaign for the Indiana General Federation of Women’s Clubs presidency was brutal, not because the women were especially petty, but because they were political actors vying for power in a large, influential organization. Despite her best efforts, even Stern was drawn into the fray. Notably, some of the damage inflicted on her character seems to be the result of latent antisemitism in some of her colleagues rather than any action or position that she took herself.

South Bend News-Times, October 27, 1915, 3, Newspapers.com

As Terre Haute clubwomen Lenore Hanna Cox and Stella Stimson clashed in the fight for the Federation, Grace Julian Clarke was often in the middle of the battle and was the recipient of many letters showing support for or opposition to the candidates. Clarke supported Cox for the presidency and worked hard to back her candidacy and oppose Stimson. Clarke’s main complaint about Stimson was that she felt Stimson’s temperance work interfered with her suffrage advocacy, potentially driving away supporters who did not support Prohibition.

Image accessed Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood.

In August, for reasons unknown, Stimson wrote Clarke suggesting Stern as Federation president. Since Stimson herself was vying for the office, this seems to be some sort of political chess move – perhaps positioning herself as uninterested in order not to seem overly ambitious. Stimson’s letter had a negative impact on Stern’s reputation amongst her Federation colleagues. It made Clarke worry that Stern was another potential obstacle to Cox’s presidency. As word got out, some Federation members suspected Stern to be Stimson’s “spy” at closed meetings and wanted to exclude Stern from the Federation and the Terre Haute WFL. Unfortunately, some of this suspicion seems to have been tinged with antisemitism.

Stern was never interested in the Federation presidency. In fact, she told a colleague that she “absolutely would not have it if it were handed to her on a platter.” Her résumé shows that she was more interested in philanthropy and women’s rights than club politics. And yet, Cox and another Terre Haute clubwoman, Helen C. Benbridge, attacked Stern in letters to Clarke. Benbridge wrote an especially hateful letter.

Indianapolis Star, May 7, 1914, 5, Newspapers.com.

Stimson’s tactic for beating Cox was to paint the latter as less “Christian,” by which Stimson meant less moral, because Stimson was a prohibitionist while Cox did not believe the liquor issue was as important as the vote. While campaigning, Stimson claimed that Cox was not Christian. Benbridge took this as an opportunity to attack Stern, bending Stimson’s words back to a more literal interpretation of what it meant to be Christian. Benbridge wrote, “If Mrs. S[timson] objects to Mrs. C[ox] because she is not a Christian why does Mrs. Stern strike her as a good candidate?” While Benbridge was certainly being somewhat sarcastic, the implication was that being Jewish should disqualify Stern from the presidency. It has just a hint of antisemitism, especially as Benbridge continued to write in a disparaging way about Stern’s influence in the Jewish community of Terre Haute.

Benbridge claimed that Stern was “furious” with Stimson “about several Jewish matters.” Stimson was a Christian and an active leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, so why she was involved in “Jewish matters” to the extent that she could anger Stern, a prominent Jewish leader, is unclear. Cox also wrote disparagingly about Stern, encouraging the baseless rumor that Stern was Stimson’s spy and pushing to remove her from the WFL and Federation. Cox wrote that by including Stern in the Federation leadership, they would be creating “a Frankenstein” of an organization. This dehumanizing language is also telling of Cox’s potential antisemitic feelings toward Stern.

Lenore Cox to Grace Julian Clarke, October 21, 1915, Grace Julian Clarke Correspondence and Papers, 1915 Oct.-Dec., Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

In another letter disparaging Stern and seeking Clarke’s support to remove Stern from the Terre Haute branches of the Federation and WFL, Cox claimed that she (Cox) had the support of the National Council of Jewish Women, not Stern. This was unlikely considering Stern was an officer of the Terre Haute Section of the Council while Cox was a Christian who attended an Episcopal church and thus not a Council member. However, the claim does show the necessity of securing the support of an active community of Jewish women and perhaps the threat Cox felt Stern might pose to her leadership in Terre Haute. Cox did have to admit to Clarke that Stern had graciously supported a motion that Cox had made during a recent meeting. Cox, who appeared to view things in black and white—allies and opponents—could not understand why Stern, whom she had labelled as her enemy, could possibly agree with her on an issue. Cox asked Clarke, “Is she really normal?” Again, using “othering” language that divested Stern of some humanity.

It is worth noting that while Clarke worried about Stern’s connection to Stimson in her private letters, Clarke did not descend into name calling like the others. Clarke often spoke positively of Stern in public, praising Stern’s philanthropic work and calling her “able and efficient in whatever she undertakes.” Clarke and Stern worked together successfully for many more years.

That any of these attacks were aimed more harshly at Stern because she was Jewish is, to some degree, speculation. Again, this was politics, and mudslinging was always part of the game. However, we can be certain that Stern did face antisemitism at various points in her career. According to historian Melissa R. Klapper, Jewish women had only recently, and only tepidly at that, been included in the suffrage movement. Meetings, resolutions, songs, and speeches were imbued with Christian rhetoric that could make Jewish women feel excluded. Rallies and conventions were often held on Friday evenings when observant Jewish women would have been prevented from attending or felt conflicted about participating. Some Jewish women were reluctant to work with Christian suffragists who used contact with Jews as an evangelizing opportunity.

The antisemitism imbued in the women’s suffrage movement was perhaps most clearly expressed through its leadership. Nationally prominent suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published an article referring to Jews as “a useless portion of society.” In her Woman’s Bible, Stanton went on to blame the “backward” ideas espoused by Judaism for women’s second-class status. Famed Methodist minister and suffrage orator Anna Howard Shaw blamed Jewish immigrants for failed suffrage campaigns and Quaker suffragist Alice Paul worked amicably with Jewish women in public, while privately expressing her “antagonism for Jews.” According to Klapper, the antisemitism of their colleagues meant that Jewish women felt an “unease with their place” and “occupied an ambiguous position” within the larger suffrage movement. So whether or not we interpret the hostility directed toward Stern by her fellow clubwomen as antisemitic, Stern would certainly have been familiar with the writings of the leaders of the women’s movements and received the message that she was an outsider in a Christian space.

We also know Stern faced antisemitism because she wrote about it in her own words. In 1911, Stern published her poem “The Greater Creed” in The Butterfly, a magazine concerned with Progressive Era reform, politics, and culture. Stern’s poem had three main points. First, she expressed the completeness Jews felt in worshipping one God, explaining to a Christian reader that Jews did not feel the need for “a mediator.” While this may seem like a dig at the complexity of Christian spiritual practices, her goal was not to be divisive. She paid respect to the equality of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, noting that they were God’s children. Her second goal in “The Greater Creed,” was to argue that while some people worshipped Allah, some Christ, and some “Reason,” one’s chosen belief system mattered less than one’s actions. She stated that it was work on behalf of one’s fellow man, not creeds, that made one holy. She wrote, “Fling afar your doctrine. Cast aside your fears.” Her final and most powerful message was that all people of faith should unite to serve those in need. She concluded:

Seek out the weeping ones and dry their tears.

The sick, the halt, the sinner and the blind,

Oh, pity them and love them and be kind.

For after all, the helpful human deed

By Christian, Turk or Jew to one in need

Can bring more souls to God than all man’s creed.

While Stern pushed back against the dominance of Christian culture at the start of the poem, she immediately moved on to her main point: doctrine doesn’t matter as much as serving the poor.

But by 1917, Stern had extensively revised this poem, doubling the stanzas, and drastically changing its tone. While she closed the poem, renamed “The Jew to the Gentile,” with the same eighteen lines that made up “The Greater Creed,” she added thirty additional lines to the beginning. In these new stanzas she boldly confronted the antisemitism she faced in the world around her. First, she addressed the condemnation she felt Christians delivered to Jews for not believing in the divinity of Jesus. Quoting a fictional priest, she wrote:

The priest bent angry gaze upon the Jew,

“What base ingratitude. Shame, shame that you

Who love the Father, should deny His Son.

Christ, Jesus, is Divine, with God is one.”

Still speaking in the voice of the judgmental priest character, she continued on the same theme: “Oh, stiff-necked race/ Forever shall the glory of God’s face / Be turned from you.” She then shifted her focus to what she perceived as a hypocritical characteristic of Christianity, that is, violently persecuting those who did not share Christian beliefs. She wrote from the perspective of a Jew responding to the condemnation of the fictional priest, stating that Christianity had forced belief in the divinity of Christ on the world “with rack and sword.” Again, after her attack, she softened her tone and in her next few lines, she explored the theme of Jewish forgiveness. She wrote:

And yet

Although you maimed us with the scourge and flame

And tortured and reviled us ‘in His name’;

We reach out arms in friendliness to you

And plead for peace.

After this stanza, Stern then repeated the lines of the 1911 version of the poem, which were focused on the importance of acting on behalf of the poor and needy as opposed to arguing over religious creed. So, what had changed between the uplifting lines of the 1911 work and the castigating revision of 1917? We can surmise that she came into greater contact and conflict with antisemitic language or ideas, likely in the context of the women’s organizations that occupied most of her time.

Despite the opposition of members of the Federation or any other potential antisemitic incidents she may have faced, Stern rose above the political backstabbing and continued to serve as a leader within the Federation. She also became the treasurer of the National Council of Jewish women (the nationwide organization, not just the Terre Haute section). She even found time to lead a local Vigo County organization dedicated to studying and protecting birds. As the suffrage movement headed into its final stretch, Stern made an important contribution to the final push for the vote through the Legislative Council of Indiana Women, a statewide organization dedicated to lobbying the General Assembly.

Indianapolis News, July 7, 1917, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles.

On January 16, 1920, Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Sara Messing Stern was among the “women who saw the culmination of a struggle in which they were pioneers,” according to the Indianapolis News. The following day, Governor Goodrich signed the ratification resolution surrounded by the “prominent suffrage workers of the state.” A photograph on the front page of the Indianapolis Star, shows Stern among them, looking on approvingly. As she stood in the governor’s office, she saw her life’s work for women’s suffrage achieved.

Indianapolis Star, January 17, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

Stern was only one of a large army of women fighting for full citizenship rights for women, yet she made an impact on Indiana history. She felt called to serve God by caring for those less fortunate, and she left a legacy of improving her communities in Indianapolis and Terre Haute. She overcame many obstacles, including the inherent antisemitism of Progressive Era women’s movements. Throughout her career, Sara Messing Stern maintained her Jewish faith and pushed back against antisemitism of her colleagues, powerfully expressing her defiance through her poetry. To Stern, the “Greater Creed” was not a specific religious doctrine, but instead helping others and striving for equality.

Notes:

For an extended and annotated version of this post, click here.

For an overview of the Federation controversy, read historian Jackie Swihart’s post: “A Petty Affair: Grace Julian Clarke and the 1915 Campaign for the Indiana General Federation of Women’s Clubs Presidency.”

View Grace Julian Clarke’s 1915 correspondence via the Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

“If Even a Sparrow Should Fall:” The Conservation Work of Ornithologist Jane L. Hine

Historians tend to write about the leaders of movements – the “big picture” people espousing new ideologies or courses of action. This focus makes sense. These larger-than-life historical figures had an outsized impact on our past and they lend themselves to more dramatic stories. But what about the lesser-known folks who make change at a local level? Can we make space to honor these quieter voices and their work putting big ideas into action? In this post we’ll look at the late-in-life work of Jane L. (Brooks) Hine to save Indiana’s native bird species. While not one of the major voices of the burgeoning conservation movement, Hine’s ornithological work helped convince Hoosiers that birds were worth protecting as part of delicate ecosystems, from forests to farms.

Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed  GoogleBooks.
Photograph of Hines courtesy “Charlie Chat” from the Elkhart Public Library, accessed https://eplcharliechat.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/throwback-thursday-jane-brooks-hine/

Jane Levisa Brooks was born in Ohio in 1831 and studied literature at Oberlin College, graduating in the 1850s. She married her sister’s widower, Horatio Hine, adopting children from that union and having three more of her own. The family moved to a farm in Sedan, DeKalb County, Indiana in December 1861. Jane Hine focused on raising her children and helping with the farm work over the following decades. (The family also returned to Ohio for a time before circling back to the Sedan farm permanently). [1] It was not until the mid to late 1880s, when Hine was in her late fifties, that she began to study ornithology (the branch of zoology focused on birds). [2]

Photograph of Hine’s Farm in Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, GoogleBooks.

Women around the world were engaged in scientific work long before they were allowed to study at universities and gain accreditation. Hine joined an informal coterie of women doing physics equations, tinkering with inventions, and categorizing plant species at the kitchen table instead of the university laboratory. Without an avenue open for formal study, Hine simply followed her passion for birds. She became an ornithologist by doing ornithology. That is, she began keeping careful, scientific observations of the birds that populated the farmland and forests around her home in a journal. She also began attending the same meetings and reading the scientific journals of professionally-accredited ornithologists. For example, in 1890, Hine attended a meeting of ornithologists, mainly professors, which was part of a larger meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Indianapolis. [3]

Pamphlet, Amos W. Butler, Birds of Indiana with Illustrations of Many Species (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, First Published 1890), 29, accessed GoogleBooks.

Soon, other scientists came to respect and seek out her data. Amos Butler, a prominent ornithologist and a founder of the Indiana Academy of Science, sought Hine’s data for his Birds of Indiana report for the Indiana Horticultural Society. Amos extensively cited Hine’s observations on bird species around her Sedan home and called her “a faithful observer of nature and a careful recorder of her observations.” [4] Butler’s report was widely circulated by various organizations and the Horticultural Society made Hine a member. [5] After the publication of this report, Hine rocketed to prominence in naturalist circles.

By 1891, Hine was speaking regularly at Farmers’ Institutes, first in the nearby town of Waterloo, and then around the state.  [6] Through these talks, she made a significant impact on bird conservation. At this time, many farmers saw birds as pests, nothing more than thieves of seeds and fruits, and shot them on sight. Hine knew she wouldn’t be able to convince everyone to love birds for their own sake as she did, so she found a more practical approach. She painted a larger picture of the ecosystem around farms, with birds as an essential component. Most significantly, Hine told farmers, birds ate the insects that ruined crops. This got their attention. After presenting at the Waterloo Farmers’ Institute in February 1891, the local newspaper reported:

Mrs. Hine is well known not only in this State, but throughout the U.S. among ornithologists, as one [of] the best among them in everything that pertains to the life and habits of the different birds that inhabit the forests and fields on our farms. Her description of different species of birds that were valuable to farmers as insect destroyers was listened to with marked attention by the many farmers present. [7]

Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed GoogleBooks.

In addition to her talents as a reliable collector of scientific data and a convincing speaker for bird preservation, Hine was a colorful and engaging writer. While she continued contributing ornithological data for scientific reports, she also began writing articles for scientific and  general audiences. For example, she wrote “Tyrant Flycatchers” for the Waterloo Press in 1891 and contributed an article on thrushes, bluebirds, and robins to the Indiana Board of Agriculture report in 1893. [8] Most popular were the articles she penned for the Farmer’s Guide, which was published in Huntington, Indiana, but had statewide circulation and a large readership. She wrote “Birds That Befriend Our Trees” and “Farmers, Take Care of Your Birds,” both arguing for conservation of bird species. [9] In 1896, she contributed a series of articles under the title “Farm Birds in Northern Indiana,” carefully and colorfully describing bird species. [10] Readers, especially the young ones, couldn’t get enough of these articles from “Aunt Jane” and they clamored for more in their letters to the editor. [11]

The Farmer’s Guide 14, No. 7 (February 15, 1902), 97, accessed GoogleBooks.
Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, GoogleBooks.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Hine’s influence continued to grow. Butler again cited her data in a widely-circulated report for the Indiana Academy of Science. [12] She continued to present to Farmers’ Institutes but also to more general audiences, such as literary clubs, around the state. [13] Reporting on the 1899 meeting of the Indiana Audubon Society, the Waterloo Press called for several actions to protect birds. One of these was to have Hine speak widely to the public and especially school children to “awaken an interest in the dear birds by telling of their habits and her own experience watching them.” [14] The article highlights both her expertise and the regard to which her knowledge was held in her community, hinting at how contagious her enthusiasm must have been.

Hine also successfully advocated for the “Indiana Bird Law,” which protected insect-eating birds essential to the ecosystem and especially certain species of trees used in orchards and for timber. She told the Waterloo Press in 1904:

The people of DeKalb county have reason to be proud of our Indiana Bird Law. Only two counties of the state sent petitions, through their Farmer’s Institutes, to the State Legislature for its passage, without which no action could have been taken. Our county, DeKalb, was one of the two counties. The law provides for the protection of our insectivorous birds . . . Our timber and orchards have need of them. Sometimes, both before and since the passage of this law, there has been much slaughter among our woodpeckers . . . but that is in the past; and now boys let us loyally stand by our Indiana Bird Law. [15]

Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed GoogleBooks.

The farmers who attended the institutes where Hine regularly spoke had evolved from shooting the birds on their property to petitioning the Indiana General Assembly for their protection. Hine could have stopped there. She had influenced bird conservation and been accepted by the scientific community as an expert in her field. In fact, in 1906, she presented at the prestigious Twenty-Fourth Annual Congress of the American Ornithologists’ Union. [16] The Indianapolis Daily Sun referred to her as “one of the foremost authorities on native birds in the state.” [17] Fortunately for Hoosier bird lovers, she still had more to contribute.

In 1911, at the age of eighty, Hine made perhaps her most notable contribution to Indiana ornithology in the form of “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” published in the Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game. [18] In this collection of articles on twenty-nine families of birds, Hine wrote vividly on her personal experiences with the various species and their characteristics and habitats. Her serene and poetic writing painted an idyllic picture of her farm and its feathered residents. She wrote:

I have seen, on a misty morning, an Egret that seemed, as it rose white and beautiful in the mist, more like a spirit than a bird. [19]

Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed GoogleBooks.

Each featured bird was accompanied by a full color photogravure (a type of photographic engraved print) taken by Hines. She also included a poem, “My Birds,” in which she made a passionate argument against the killing of birds for fashion or agriculture. [20] Instead she advocated for their protection, based in part on a religious argument and partly through descriptions of their unique beauty, characteristics, and contributions to the natural environment. The poem begins:

No bird that the Lord has created
Shall come to misfortune through me;
Not one of my jolly old Robins,
Though they take the fruit from my trees [21]

After several more stanzas describing all of “her” birds, she concluded:

Not one of my beautiful Wax-wings,
Though they take my cherries I know;
Not one of the birds God has given me;
Not even my jaunty old Crow.

Shall have from me aught but kind treatment,
When He who created them all,
Would feel both compassion and sorrow
If even a Sparrow should fall. [22]

Newspapers and magazines raved about the collection of articles, reprinted large sections, and included her poem as well. She became known far and wide as “the bird woman of Indiana.” [23] For the next few years she continued speaking to local clubs, but her major work was complete. Jane L. Hine died in Sedan on February 11, 1916. [24] The Waterloo Press praised her as “an authority” on ornithology and the natural sciences. [25] Other newspapers, scientific journals, and the Indiana Audubon Society also paid tribute to her contributions. [26]

Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 6, 1911, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed GoogleBooks.

It would be difficult to quantify Hine’s impact on the conservation movement or summarize her exact place in the history of women in science. But maybe each spring when we hear the birds chatter outside our windows we can just take a minute to thank Hine for protecting our native species at a time when they had few voices to speak for them.

Learn more about bird conservation in Indiana through the Indiana Audubon Society.

Notes

[1] 1850 United States Federal Census, Berlin Township, Erie County, Ohio, August 29, 1850, National Archives, Record Group 29, Series Number: M432, Page 460A, Line 10, AncestryLibrary.com; 1860 United States Federal Census, Berlin Township, Erie County, Ohio, June 14, 1860, National Archives, Record Group 19, Series Number: M653, Page 172, Line 38AncestryLibrary.com; 1870 United States Federal Census, Lawrence / Richland Township, DeKalb County, Indiana, Roll: M593_309, Page 364B, National Archives and Records Administration, Ancestry.com; Seventy-Fifth Anniversary General Catalogue of Oberlin College, 1833—1908, (Cleveland, OH: O. S. Hubbell Printing Co., 1909), 121, HathiTrust; Marriage Record, Lake County Ohio Courthouse Records, p. 160, Various Ohio County Courthouses, 1853-1875, Film Number 000974916, AncestryLibrary.com; History of DeKalb County, Indiana (Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1914), 991-92, GoogleBooks; “Mrs. Jane L. Hine Died Early Saturday Morning,” Waterloo Press, February 16, 1916, 1, 8, Newspapers.com; “Jane L. Hine,” photograph of grave, Waterloo Cemetery, DeKalb County, Indiana, Find A Grave Index, AncestryLibrary.com.
[2] “Noblesville,” Waterloo Press, June 14, 1888, 8, Newspapers.com; Jane L. Hine, “Water Birds and Waders of Our Indiana Farm,” [Hine’s journal], circa 1880s, transcribed in Terri L. Gorney, Jane Brooks Hine: An Indiana Bird Woman (self-published, 2014), Indiana State Library.
[3] “The Men of Science,” Indianapolis News, August 21, 1890, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.
[4] Amos W. Butler, Birds of Indiana with Illustrations of Many Species, pamphlet (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, First Published 1890), 5, 59, 63, 83-84, 92, 100, 102, 104-105, 117, GoogleBooks; Amos W. Butler, “A Catalogue of the Birds of Indiana” in Transactions of the Indiana Horticultural Society for the Year 1890 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1891), Appendix C, GoogleBooks.
[5] Transactions of the Indiana Horticultural Society for the Year 1890 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1891), 12, GoogleBooks.
[6] “Farmers’ Institute,” Waterloo Press, March 5, 1891, 1, Newspapers.com; “Sedan,” Waterloo Press, January 28, 1892, Newspapers.com.
[7] “Farmers’ Institute,” 1.
[8] Jane L. Hine, “Tyrant Flycatchers,” Waterloo Press, March 19, 1891, 5, Newspapers.com; Jane L. Hine, “ A Family of Feathered Friends,” in Forty-Second Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, 1892-1893 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Buford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding, 1893), 555-56, GoogleBooks.
[9] Jane L. Hine, “ A Family of Feathered Friends,” in Forty-Second Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, 1892-1893 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Buford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding, 1893), 555-56, GoogleBooks; W. S. Blatchley, ed., Indiana Department of Geology and Natural Resources Twenty-Second Annual Report (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Buford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding, 1897), 544, GoogleBooks.
[10] W. S. Blatchley, ed., Indiana Department of Geology and Natural Resources Twenty-Second Annual Report (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Buford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding, 1897), 544, GoogleBooks.
[11] Farmer’s Guide, July 3, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, July 17, 1897, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, August 28, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, September 4, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks;  Farmer’s Guide, September 11, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, November 13, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, February 22, 1902, 123, GoogleBooks.
[12] A. W. Butler, “Additional Notes on Indiana Birds,” in Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, 1894 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1898), 162-166, HathiTrust.
[13] No Title, Waterloo Press, January 20, 1898, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Institute Proceedings,” Albion Noble Democrat, February 10, 1898, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Sedan Bulleted,” Waterloo Press, October 13, 1904, 8, Newspapers.com; “Sedan,” Waterloo Press, October 12, 1905, 8, NewspaperArchive.com.
[14] “Our Native Birds,” Waterloo Press, March 9, 1899, 5, Newspapers.com.
[15] “Our Indiana Bird Law,” Waterloo Press, November 24, 1903, 1, Newspapers.com.
[16]“The Twenty-Fourth Annual Congress of the American Ornithologists’ Union: Program,” in Bird Lore, edited by Frank M. Chapman (Harrisburg, PA and New York City: D. Appleton & Co., 1906), 212, GoogleBooks.
[17] “Local and General,” Indianapolis Daily Sun reprinted in the Waterloo Press, August 3, 1911, 4, Newspapers.com.
[18] Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” in Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries and Game for Indiana (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, GoogleBooks.
[19-22] Ibid.
[23] “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 6, 1911, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Talked on Birds,” Waterloo Press, May 16, 1912, 1, Newspapers.com.
[24] “Personal Mention,” Waterloo Press, April 25, 1912, 5, Newspapers.com; “Local and General,” Waterloo Press, January 28, 1915, 8, NewspaperArchive.com; “All Around Pick Up,” Waterloo Press, May 27, 1915, 4, Newspapers.com; Indiana State Board of Health, “Jane Hine, Certificate of Death, February 11, 1916, Richland Township, DeKalb County, Indiana, p. 127, Indiana State Board of Health Death Certificates, 1900-2017, microfilm, Indiana Archives and Records Administration Roll Number 04, AncestryLibrary.com; “Mrs. Jane L. Hine Died Early Saturday Morning,” Waterloo Press, February 16, 1916, 1, 8, Newspapers.com.
[25] “Mrs. Jane L. Hine Died Early Saturday Morning,” 1.
[26] “Reports of Affiliated State Societies and Bird Clubs: Indiana Audubon Society” in Bird Lore, edited by Frank M. Chapman (Harrisburg, PA and New York City: D. Appleton & Co., 1917), 447, GoogleBooks; John Hall Sage, “Thirty-Fourth Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union,” in The Auk: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology 42, (1917), 76-77, GoogleBooks.

Dissent and Patriotism: The Hungarian Community of Terre Haute during WWI

The renowned historian Howard Zinn called dissent “the highest form of patriotism.” He explained:

In fact, if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles. And if we’re exercising that right to dissent, it’s a patriotic act.[1]

The Hungarian immigrants who came to Terre Haute at the turn of the twentieth century made dissent their first act of patriotism, striking and organizing for equality in the workplace. After the U.S. declared war on Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary in 1917, however, these Hoosiers of Hungarian origin temporarily abandoned this cause for another – demonstrating their loyalty to the United States and becoming citizens. This battle for acceptance was almost as fierce as the violent skirmishes at the nearby coal mines.

Hungarian Family at Ellis Island, photograph, n.d., Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, statueofliberty.org.

Escaping impoverished conditions in Hungary, over a million Hungarians immigrated to the United States between 1870 and 1920, according to one study.[2] By 1910, over 14,000 Hungarian immigrants settled in Indiana with 452 in Vigo County, creating a vibrant community in Terre Haute.[3] The language barrier combined with local mistrust of Eastern European immigrants meant that their job options were limited. But industry in the city was booming, creating a demand for workers willing to take on the difficult and dangerous jobs in coal mining, manufacturing, and railroads.[4] Newspapers across the country are full of stories of workers killed in factory explosions or coal mine cave-ins.[5] Few companies had adequate safety regulations and none had insurance. So, the newcomers took care of each other.

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 18, 1916, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1909, they formed the First Terre Haute Hungarian Sick and Death Benefit Society, a self-funded insurance group (also known as the Verhovay Society).[6] The approximately 200 members paid regular dues with the funds going to the families of members when they were killed or injured at work.[7] Hungarian immigrants were willing to take the risk, hoping to improve the lives of their families. However, in addition to the dangers, companies were also paying the immigrants lower wages. These were people eager to become citizens of the United States – a country that promised “all men are created equal,” according to the Declaration of Independence.[8] This disparity in pay did not reflect the proclaimed values of their new country. In response, the Hungarian immigrant workers joined labor unions and Socialist Party organizations and went on strike for better wages.[9] Between 1905 and 1910, Hungarian immigrants participated in seventy-seven of the 113 strikes that occurred nationwide, according to one study.[10]

“Coal Miners,” photograph, n.d., Sullivan County Historical Society, Indiana Memory.

However, in the spring of 1909, they were violently suppressed. Several men of Hungarian origin worked at the nearby Bogle coal mine where they lived in camps. For several weeks they had clashed with the American-born workers. While there are plenty of newspaper articles covering the clashes, it’s unclear what generated the feuds.[11] Looking at other similar events across the country, it is likely that the immigrant workers were pushing for equal pay, while the American workers resented them for working for low wages, inhibiting their own ability to demand higher compensation. Many companies would gladly replace a higher American wage with a lower immigrant one.[12] Unfortunately for both groups of workers, deep-seated xenophobia prevented the two groups from uniting and demanding fair pay for all. Instead, they turned on each other. On March 31, the Associated Press reported that the American coal miners had driven the Hungarian immigrant workers from the Bogle mine after “a gun fight . . . in which eleven persons were wounded.”[13] The Hungarians would have to tend to their wounded and seek jobs elsewhere.

Indiana Socialist Bulletin, July 1, 1913, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Some of the Hungarian workers who remained in Terre Haute organized a local branch of the Indiana Socialist Party and attended meetings on workers’ rights.[14] But in 1914, the outbreak of war in Europe would curtail all such patriotic dissent. The newcomers would demonstrate a new kind of patriotism and their organizations and leadership quickly shifted their goals and tactics. The nationalism surrounding WWI required them to display their unquestioned allegiance to the United States in a public, performative manner. Following the activities of local Hungarian organizations and leaders in the Terre Haute Daily Tribune, it’s clear that the newcomers felt their main goal was to convince their neighbors that they were Americans first and foremost and Hungarians only culturally. In the pages of the Daily Tribune, they publicly disavowed their allegiance to the ruler of Austria-Hungary and made clear that they disagreed with the crown’s position in the war.[15]

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, December 20, 1914, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Verhovay Society also took on additional duties during WWI. They hosted English classes and events, displaying their patriotism by flying large American flags at their meetings and picnics.[16] Most importantly, many Hungarian-born Terre Haute residents pursued citizenship.  As soon as they met the residential requirements, they applied for first papers. At this time, in Indiana (and thirty-nine other states) immigrants with first papers could vote in all elections.[17] They would then study English, American history, and the workings of the U.S. government in preparation for their citizenship tests. The Daily Tribune regularly reported on their citizenship applications.[18]

New York Times, December 8, 1917, 1, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1917/12/08/issue.html

These citizenship efforts became more important after the U.S. entered the global conflict, first declaring war on Germany, and then, in December 1917, on its ally Austria-Hungary. The U.S. federal government then declared Hungarian immigrants who had not yet achieved full citizenship to be “enemy aliens.” According to the National Archives:

The Federal Government instituted enemy alien control programs during wartime. This generally subjected aliens to additional regulations, increased scrutiny, and required registration and/or internment.[19]

Nationalism flared and immigrants, especially those from Germany and Austria-Hungary, felt the repercussions – often through the loss of rights. Indiana schools stopped teaching German, while German-language newspapers in Terre Haute and across the state folded.[20] Hoosiers consumed propaganda vilifying Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary. President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war included regulations for “alien enemies,” including barring firearm ownership and allowing for arrest and detainment for the duration of the war.[21] This was not an idle threat.

“Shop Mule,” photograph, n.d., Wisconsin Historical Society.

Many of the Hungarian immigrants to Terre Haute worked for Terre Haute Malleable & Manufacturing Company (incorporated in 1906) and settled in the neighborhood near the plant.[22] In June 1918, Terre Haute police arrested Austrian-born Malleable employee John Precpep. The Daily Tribune reported that he was charged with being “a suspected dangerous alien enemy” and would be “interned for the duration of the war.”[23] He was also made to turn over his property and the $1,000 he had in the bank. He was reported  to have bought no Liberty Bonds and to have “encouraged foreign born citizens to evade the draft law.” [24] It’s not clear who made these reports – neighbors or coworkers perhaps. But it is clear that one’s reputation as a loyal, patriotic American – one who bought war bonds and registered for the draft – mattered. But even enlisting in the U.S. Army didn’t necessarily protect one from suspicion.

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, January 31, 1918, 11, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Hungarian Terre Haute resident James Kovac enlisted in the U.S. Army and proudly carried his registration card with him around town. He also went to a second hand store and bought himself an army coat and bayonet “so that the government would not have to furnish him one when he enlisted.”[25] Wearing his hand-me-down uniform with pride, Kovac attended a dance at a local establishment at 15th and Beech Streets. When the tavern owner identified Kovac as Hungarian, he called the police. Kovac was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. Local courts determined that he got his “army uniform too soon” and sentenced him to 100 days in jail, despite his eagerness to serve his new country.[26] So if enlisting wasn’t the ultimate expression of loyalty, what was? How could immigrants of Hungarian origin display their patriotism to neighbors and coworkers and avoid reprisals for failing to do so?

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 9, 1917, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Leading Terre Haute citizens of Hungarian origin organized highly visible displays of patriotism, which the local newspaper reported on approvingly. In June 1917, the Verhovay Society, led by Alexander Steele, “held a flag dedication” at the organization’s “picnic grounds” at Twenty-Second and Linden Streets (today the site of Hungarian Hall).[27] The Daily Tribune reported that “the affair was one of the biggest celebrations ever held by foreign organizations.”[28] In addition to the hundreds of local Verhovay members, Clinton (Vermillion County) also sent a delegation of 300 members. In addition to prominent members of the Hungarian community, the mayor of Terre Haute, the reverend of St. Ann’s Church, and the captain of a local military company also attended. During the ceremony the Society officially adopted the American flag and vowed to carry it “at all public demonstrations hereafter.”[29]

In June 1918, Alexander Steele led another display, this time “a patriotic parade” and an assembly at the Terre Haute Post Office where the resident of Hungarian origin would “renew their oaths of loyalty to this country under the American flag.”[30]  They also announced that they would be forming a Hungarian Loyalty League. Just a month later, the League marched in the Fourth of July parade. The Daily Tribune reported that the 160 members who marched carried a large American flag and “were repeatedly cheered along the line of the march.”[31] Later that month, they held their largest and most visible event yet.

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, July 30, 1918, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

On July 27, 1918, 250 members of Terre Haute’s Hungarian Loyalty League swore a public “oath of allegiance to the Stars and Stripes.”[32] This act was accompanied by hundreds more supporters marching in a patriotic parade from Ninth and Ohio Streets to the post office. Symbolizing the approval of the community and the sanction of local officials, the parade was headed by “a platoon of police.”[33] They were followed by “a party of mounted Hungarians and then came the First Regiment band.”[34] At least 200 Hungarian men marched as did an uncounted number of women and children, followed by decorated automobiles. They carried American flags and banners reading “Help Win the War,” “We Are Ready to Give Our All of America,” and “Hungarians by Birth, Americans by Choice.”[35] The Daily Tribune reported that the parade was directed by League President Alexander Steele, the local Postmaster John J. Cleary, and the Terre Haute mayor Charles R. Hunter. The newspaper noted approvingly:

Mr. Steele deserves great credit for the rousing display of patriotism shown by himself and his countrymen and their loyal support of the stars and stripes.[36]

After swearing the oath, Terre Haute residents gave them “a rousing cheer.” The party then “adjourned to their hall” (likely a precursor of the current Hungarian Hall) at 22nd and Linden.[37] There they celebrated with a banquet, dancing, and speechmaking.

Terre Haute News, October 12, 2009, tribstar.com.

Despite such performances of patriotism, Indiana soon moved to end the right of immigrants to vote on first papers and authorities broke up meetings of “foreign born . . . bolshevik agitators” as Hoosiers succumbed to the fear and nationalism of the First Red Scare.[38] Ku Klux Klan membership grew dramatically in the early 1920s and Indiana’s representatives in Congress voted for the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which effectively ended immigration from Eastern Europe.[39] But even in this cultural climate, the Hungarian community of Terre Haute thrived. They continued to pursue citizenship and improve their English, opening up more occupational opportunities for themselves and their children. They saved money and opened small shops, including a number of grocery stores. There are many examples of this trajectory, including that of Frank and Julia Koos.

Terre Haute Tribune Star, March 7, 2023, tribstar.com.

Ferencz Koos and Julianna Majoros immigrated through Ellis Island in 1907 and 1910, respectively. They married, Americanized their names, moved to North Carolina, and then Indiana. By the early 1920s, they had made Terre Haute their home. Frank worked as a miner and a farmer and the couple saved their money. By 1925, they had opened a small grocery store at 2401 Maple Ave in the Hungarian neighborhood. While the business was named Frank Koos Grocery & Meats, the city directories and census records show that Julia managed the day to day operations while Frank continued working in coal mines. Later in life, when the store was comfortably established, they shared the running the shop as well as a small farm.[40]

The site where Koos’s store once stood is the perfect location to place a historical marker with this family’s story symbolizing the experiences of many in the city’s Hungarian community. Thanks to a successful marker application by the Koos’s granddaughter Laura Loudermilk, and the work of IHB staff, a state historical marker will be dedicated later this year. The text will read:

Side One

Hungarians seeking economic opportunities settled in Terre Haute at the start of the 20th century and created a vibrant community. Many worked for coal mines, railroads, and manufacturing industries. In response to dangerous conditions and low wages, they joined unions and, in 1909, founded the Hungarian Sick and Death Benefit Society, a self-funded insurance group.

Side Two

Despite facing prejudice during WWI, many Hungarian immigrants enlisted in the military, formed patriotic groups, and gained citizenship. They also established businesses, including Frank and Julia Koos who opened a grocery store here in the 1920s. Nearby Hungarian Hall hosted celebrations, elections, and union meetings, and continues to preserve Hungarian traditions.

The marker will stand as a reminder that these Hungarian immigrants, once designated “alien enemies,” improved their community and local economy, served their new country in times of war, and made Terre Haute a more vibrant and diverse city. Immigrants revitalize local economies and make communities stronger, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). [41] The story of the contributions made by Terre Haute’s Hungarian community is a good reminder for us today as newcomers from other countries look to make Indiana their new home.

Further Contextual Reading:

Susan Papp and Joe Esterhaus, Hungarian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (Cleveland State University, 2010), electronic edition accessed Press Books at the Michael Schwartz Library, https://pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu/hungarian-americans-and-their-communities-of-cleveland/.

Notes:

[1] Howard Zinn interviewed by Sharon Basco, July 3, 2002, HowardZinn.org.

[2] Leslie Konnyu, Hungarians in the U.S.A.: An Immigration Study (St. Louis, MO: American Hungarian Review), 1967, 22, Archive.org.

[3]”Foreigners in Indiana,” Bedford Weekly Mail, May 17, 1907, 3, Newspapers.com; Department of Commerce and Labor, Thirteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1910: Statistics for Indiana (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1913), 598, 614, census.gov.

[4] Table: “Fatal Accidents in Vigo County,” and Table: “Serious Accidents in Vigo County,” in “Summary of Accidents, 1913,” Second Annual Report of the State Bureau of Inspection (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1914), 404-06, HathiTrust.

[5]“Dead Hungarians,” Crawfordsville Weekly Journal, April 4, 1891, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Many Killed by Bursting Boilers,” Pittsburg Press, December 20, 1901, 1, Newspapers.com; “Fifty Bodies Still in Mine,” Miners Journal, January 29, 1904, 1, Newspapers.com; Beverly N. Sparks, “Brave Rescuers at the Darr Mine Face to Face with Awful Death” and C. H. Gillespie, “Disaster Blamed on Company,” Pittsburg Press, December 22, 1907, 1, Newspapers.com; “Nine More Bodies Taken from Monongah Mines Making the Total Recovered 52,” Daily Telegram, December 9, 1907, 1, Newspapers.com.

[6] R. L. Polk and Co’s Terre Haute City Directory 1912-1913 (Terre Haute: Moore-Langen Printing Co., 1912), 66, AncestryLibrary.com; R. L. Polk and Co’s Terre Haute City Directory 1915-1916 (Terre Haute: Moore-Langen Printing Co., 1915), 222, AncestryLibrary.com; “Notes of Local Lodges,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, December 14, 1914, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Hungarians Elect,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, December 7, 1915, 6, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Hungarian Benefit Society Enjoys Outing,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 18, 1916, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[7] “Hungarian Aid Society Elects,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, December 20, 1914, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[8] Declaration of Independence, transcription, July 4, 1776, Founding Documents, National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript.

[9] “Hungarian Branches,” Indiana Socialist Party Bulletin, July 1, 1913, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Federal Authorities Probe Clinton Case,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 14, 1919, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Now on Trail of East Chicago Reds,” Indianapolis News, October 13, 1919, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Issues Injunction Against Molders,” Indianapolis Star, Mary 26, 1923, 5, Newspapers.com; “Labor Troubles Ripe in Three Indiana Cities,” Hammond Times, August 17, 1935, 6, Newspapers.com.

[10] Miklos Szantho, Magyarok a Nagyvilágban (Budapest: Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1970), 66 in Susan Papp and Joe Esterhaus, Hungarian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (Cleveland State University, 2010), electronic edition accessed Press Books at the Michael Schwartz Library, https://pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu/hungarian-americans-and-their-communities-of-cleveland/.

[11] “Eleven Wounded,” Daily Press (Newport News, VA), March 31, 1909, 1, Chronicling America, Library of Congress; “Mine Is Threatened,” Winchester News (KY), March 31, 1909, 5, Chronicling America, Library of Congress; “Threatened War between Miners Not So Critical,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, March 31, 1909, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[12] “The Great Immigration,” Section II: Hungarians in America in Hungarian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland,  pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu.

[13]”Eleven Wounded,” Daily Press (Newport News, VA), March 31, 1909, 1, Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

[14] Hungarian Branches,” Indiana Socialist Party Bulletin, July 1, 1913, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles; Partial Transcript of Interview with Frank Koos, 1968, Private Collection of Laura Beth Loudermilk, copy in IHB marker file.

[15] “Hungarian Position in War in Europe,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, August 21, 1914, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[16] “Hungarian Benefit Society Enjoys Outing,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 18, 1916, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles; Curt Bridwell, “What Terre Hauteans Read in the Newspapers of 40 Years Ago,” Terre Haute Tribune, December 11, 1949, Newspapers.com.

[17] “Naturalization Records,” National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/naturalization.

[18] “New Citizens Are Sworn In,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, November 15, 1914, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Citizenship Applications of Four Are Turned Down, Terre Haute Daily Tribune, November 14, 1915, 21, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Four File Declarations,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, April 17, 1917, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Seeks Citizenship,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, May 24, 1917, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[19] “Enemy Alien Records,” National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens.

[20] Indiana Historical Bureau, German Newspapers’ Demise, state historical marker #49.2017.2, in.gov.history.

[21] “World War I Enemy Alien Records,” National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens/ww1.

[22] “Incorporation” Indiana Tribune, August 4, 1906, 4, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Wanted,” Indianapolis News, December 22, 1906, 19, Newspapers.com.

[23] “Will Intern Austrian for War’s Duration,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 25, 1918, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Gets Army Uniform Too Soon, Says Court, Terre Haute Daily Tribune, 11, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Hungarians Dedicate the American Flag,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 9, 1917, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Hungarians Raise Flag,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 6, 1918, 10, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[31] “Bulgarians Are Loyal,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, July 5, 1918, 18, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[32] “Loyal Hungarians Pledge Allegiance,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, July 28, 1918, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] “Federal Authorities Probe Clinton Case,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 14, 1919, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles; “No Alien Enemy Voters,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, October 13, 1918, 4, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[39] Jill Weiss Simins, “‘America First:’ The Indiana Ku Klux Klan and Immigration Policy in the 1920s,” Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences 25, Issue 1 (Fall 2020), Oakland City University.

[40] Passenger Record: Ferencz Koos, May 1, 1907 Arrival Date, Ellis Island Passenger Records, ellisislandrecords.org; Passenger Record: Julianna Majoros, December 3, 1910 Arrival Date, Ellis Island Passenger Records, ellisislandrecords.org; Fourteenth Census of the United States, Burgaw Township, North Carolina, January 26, 1920, 17A, Lines 39-40, Bureau of the Census, National Archives and Records Administration,  AncestryLibrary.com; Polk’s Terre Haute City Directory 1922 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1922), 403, AncestryLibrary.com; Polk’s Terre Haute City Directory 1924 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1924), 423, AncestryLibrary.com; Polk’s Terre Haute City Directory 1925 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1925), 334, AncestryLibrary.com; Frank Koos Grocery and Meats, photograph, n.d. [circa 1929], Private Collection of Laura Beth Loudermilk, copy in IHB marker file; Fifteenth Census of the United States, Ward 7, Terre Haute, Vigo County, April 8, 1930, 4A Lines 44-45, Bureau of the Census, National Archives and Records Administration, AncestryLibrary.com; Sixteenth Census of the United States, Ward 7, Terre Haute, Vigo County, April 2, 1940, 1B, Lines 64-64, Bureau of the Census, National Archives and Records Administration, AncestryLibrary.com;  Polk’s Terre Haute City Directory 1947 (St. Louis: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1947), 269, AncestryLibrary.com; Partial Transcript of Interview with Frank Koos, 1968, Private Collection of Laura Beth Loudermilk, copy in IHB marker file.

[41] National Academy of Sciences, “Integration of Immigrants into American Society” (Washington, D.C.: NAS Press, 2015), https://nap.nationalacademies.org/read/21746/chapter/1.

Who is Harry Hoosier? And Are People from Indiana Named for Him?

There are a lot of theories about the origin of the word “Hoosier.” And while we’ll probably never find one definitive source for this nickname for people from the State of Indiana, we sure don’t get tired of trying! IHB alone has a webpage, blog post, and podcast episode dedicated to this very question. The Indiana Magazine of History dedicated an entire issue to the various theories and the IUPUI Center for Digital Scholarship’s Chronicling Hoosier project maintains a database of the various theories and related documentation. In recent years, the Harry Hoosier theory has gained some traction, so let’s take a look at how it stacks up to the other “Hoosier” origin stories.

Early Uses of Hoosier

According to Indiana University, the earliest known written use of the word “Hoosier” comes from an 1831 letter written by G. L. Murdock to John Tipton stating that his steamboat would take the name “the Indiana Hoosier.” The earliest printed use appeared in the Vincennes Gazette just days later, commenting on the increasing population of “the ‘Hoosher’ country,” aka Indiana. Both writers used the term in a manner that shows they expected the reader already knew the word and its meaning, so it must have been in use for some time. In 1833, Representative John Finley published his poem “The Hoosher’s Nest,” which characterizes people from Indiana as upwardly mobile farmers. According to an IHB blog post: “It is likely that the moniker was first used as an insult towards people from Indiana, but they appropriated it and made it their own, much as colonial Americans had done with the term ‘Yankee’ in the 1700s.” From this early usage in the 1830s, the term appeared more regularly and almost immediately people began to speculate on its origin . . . something that continues to this day. And lately, the quest to find one neat answer has turned to the theory surrounding Harry Hoosier for a potential resolution.

Who was Harry Hoosier?

Harry Hoosier (circa 1750-1806) was a Black Methodist lay preacher whose elegant speeches made a lasting impression on listeners. Enlightenment thinker Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is reported to have said “making allowances for his illiteracy [Hoosier] was the greatest orator in America.” By 1780, Hoosier was travelling with Methodist Episcopal Bishop Francis Asbury, sometimes speaking after Asbury and soon drawing large crowds of both Black and white listeners. Over the following decade, Hoosier spoke in Eastern and Southern states but never in Indiana. If you’d like to know more about Harry Hoosier’s life and career, access the two scholarly articles freely accessible via the Indiana Magazine of History (IMH) in their 2016 “What Is A Hoosier?” bicentennial issue. Harry Hoosier was undoubtedly a significant figure in American history, but what about to Indiana history specifically? If he didn’t come to Indiana, how could Hoosiers, meaning people from Indiana, be named for him?

Stephen H. Webb, “Introducing Black Harry Hoosier: The History Behind Indiana’s Namesake,” Indiana Magazine of History (September 2016): 112, Issue 3, 226–237, https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/25483/31293.

Argument for Harry Hoosier as the Origin of the Term “Hoosier”

This is the question scholars and amateur historians have been recently tackling. The most extensive, and oft-cited study of the Harry Hoosier theory comes from William D. Pierson, professor of history at Fisk University. You can read his IMH article, “The Origin of the Word ‘Hoosier:’ A New Interpretation” here. Pierson builds on early theories explored most notably by Jacob Piatt Dunn at the start of the twentieth century that assume both a southern origin and a derogatory original meaning for the word “Hoosier.” You can read more about Dunn’s explorations of the origins of the word “Hoosier” through IHB’s Indiana History Blog blog or read Dunn’s 1905 IMH article. In short, Pierson agrees with Dunn on two points: 1. The word “Hoosier” was originally intended to be derogatory and 2. The term originated in the South. It should be noted that these assertions are still theoretical and many early sources do not actually paint Hoosiers in negative light. (Learn more).

In order to argue that the term “Hoosier,” as used in a derogatory fashion, could stem from Harry Hoosier’s career, Pierson makes his own leap of faith. Pierson posits that perhaps southern Baptists would have seen the southern Methodist supporters of Harry Hoosier’s message as “unsophisticated and unlettered.” Pierson then concludes that “it does not seem at all unlikely that Methodists and then other rustics of the backcountry could have been called ‘Hoosiers’ – disciples of the illiterate Black exhorter Harry Hoosier – as a term of opprobrium and derision.”  This is an interesting theory, but there are no primary sources to support it. Pierson himself asserts that his theory “is admittedly as circumstantial as all the other hypotheses.”

The Unravelling Harry Hoosier Theory

Harry Hoosier did not preach in or near Indiana. Pierson argues that the term originated in the South and moved with settlers as they came to Indiana. But many pioneers from Virginia and the Carolinas, where Harry Hoosier did preach, also settled in Tennessee and Kentucky. So, how did the term end up applying to people only from Indiana? Pierson posits that “an original antislavery and African American reference in the term would explain why ‘hoosier’ . . .  settled on the inhabitants of the free and more Methodist territory of Indiana after passing lightly over similarly uncouth frontiersmen in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky who were also often called ‘hoosiers.’” Here Pierson misunderstands the slavery views of both the Methodist Church and the majority of early settlers of Indiana.

While Harry Hoosier himself spoke against slavery, the Methodist church in the U.S. was split on the issue. Among believers, views ranged from vigorous support for slavery to abolition. Some southern Methodists, including church leaders, were also slaveholders. It is also important to remember the devastating impact of early Indiana practices and policies toward Black Hoosiers. Many early Hoosiers worked to prevent free Black settlers from entering the state, allowed enslavers to retain their enslaved or indentured workers for generations, and actively participated in the return of escaping self-emancipated people to their enslavers. While free Blacks and anti-slavery Quakers also shaped the state, the majority of early Hoosiers were not necessarily anti-slavery, and they definitively opposed Black settlement. Furthermore, when Indiana created its 1851 constitution, Hoosiers voted overwhelmingly for a provision prohibiting African American settlers from entering the state.

Pierson concludes that the Harry Hoosier etymology “would be the simplest derivation of the word and, on simplicity alone . . . is worth serious consideration.” However, most historians wouldn’t consider “simplicity” to be a sound historical argument. In his 2018 paper for Indiana University’s Herman B Wells Library, scholar Jeffery Graf critiques Pierson’s argument: “Readers may sense that the article has a certain wouldn’t-it-be-great-if quality, as though the author perhaps never entirely believed in his own argument, or feared no one else would.”  It should also be noted that the IMH published Pierson’s article simply as one of several theories. And that probably summarizes the Harry Hoosier theory best. It’s interesting to muse about, certainly, but there are no primary sources to give it more weight than any other theory.

Back to the Sources

Primary sources, including newspaper articles from the period, show “Hoosier” being applied as a moniker for people from Indiana in a neutral or positive manner as early as the 1830s. In an age of slower communication and travel, it is unlikely that in the approximate decade between Harry Hoosier’s death and the change in the usage of “Hoosier” that the term rocketed from Virginia and North Carolina through Tennessee and Kentucky to end up in Indiana. Meanwhile, on this rapid journey, Pierson asks us to believe it also shed its connection to Harry Hoosier, took on a derogatory meaning for Methodists, lost its derogatory meaning for Methodists, and arrived in Indiana, and was adopted there by all of the people in the state. Again, interesting, but there just isn’t any hard evidence. Stephen H. Webb, late associate professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College, who wanted to support Pierson’s theory because it “makes a better story” than other theories, conceded that “the evidence for the connection between his name and Indiana’s nickname is circumstantial, which leaves room for skepticism.”

“An Argument without End”

As the historian Pieter Geyl famously stated, “History is indeed an argument without end.” So, we encourage you to make up your own mind about the origin of the word “Hoosier.” IUPUI’s Chronicling Hoosier project presents all of the sources and data that they collected on the early uses of the term on their free and searchable website. But in all reality, we probably won’t ever know definitively or be able to neatly wrap up the argument. Like a lot of slang terms, people were using “Hoosier” in different ways. Chronicling Hoosier reports:

Instead of a tidy trajectory from one meaning to another, this newspaper analysis suggests hoosier has always had a variety of meanings and connotations. It was used to refer to individuals from “the West,” which in early 19th century included Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, and sometimes Kentucky. However, there is also clear and consistent evidence that during the same time period it was just as often a term for referring exclusively to Indianans.

The project concludes: “We suggest that the term’s definition, like all language, was and remains in flux.” This answer isn’t as satisfying as attributing the origin of the term to one great man. But sometimes history is a bit messy. As Hoosiers, known for our “Hoosier hospitality” after all, it seems perfectly Hoosier-y to welcome all the theories, from Riley’s “whose ear” joke to etymological arguments from scholars. And as more and more sources are digitized each year, it’s likely we’ll find even earlier references than we currently have. Now whether these sources will add clarity or more confusion . . . we’ll have to stay tuned, Hoosiers!

Sources and Further Reading

IUPUI Center for Digital Scholarship, Chronicling Hoosier, http://centerfordigschol.github.io/chroniclinghoosier/index.html.

Indiana Historical Bureau, “The Word ‘Hoosier:’ An Origin Story,” Indiana History Blog, June 12, 2018, https://blog.history.in.gov/the-word-hoosier-an-origin-story/.

Jeffrey Graf, The Word “Hoosier,” Scholars’ Commons, Herman B Wells Library, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, https://libraries.indiana.edu/sites/default/files/The%20Word%20Hoosier-Revised-and-Expanded-2018.pdf.

“What Is A Hoosier?: A Bicentennial Issue,” Indiana Magazine of History 112: 3 (September 2016): 149-252, https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/issue/view/1656.

William D. Piersen, “The Origin of the Word ‘Hoosier’: A New Interpretation,” Indiana Magazine of History 112:3 (September 2016): 218–225, https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/25482/31292.

Stephen H. Webb, “Introducing Black Harry Hoosier: The History Behind Indiana’s Namesake,” Indiana Magazine of History (September 2016): 112, Issue 3, 226–237, https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/25483/31293.

Brian D. Lawrence, “The Relationship between the Methodist Church, Slavery and Politics, 1784-1844,” Master of Arts in History Thesis, Department of History, Rowan University (May 4, 2018), https://rdw.rowan.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3573&context=etd.

Sources on treatment of African Americans in early Indiana:

Article 13, Indiana Constitution of 1851, Constitution Making in Indiana, edited by Charles Kettleborough (Indiana Historical Bureau, 1916, reprint 1971), accessed Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/about-indiana-history-and-trivia/explore-indiana-history-by-topic/indiana-documents-leading-to-statehood/.

Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1985, reprinted Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993), 68-69; Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority (Indianapolis, 1957), 23-30.

“Indiana and Fugitive Slave Laws,” Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/for-educators/all-resources-for-educators/resources/underground-railroad/gwen-crenshaw/indiana-and-fugitive-slave-laws/.

Donnell v. State 1852, State Historical Marker 16.2007.1, Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/state-historical-markers/find-a-marker/donnell-v-state-1852/.

John Freeman, State Historical Marker 49.2006.2, Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/state-historical-markers/find-a-marker/john-freeman/.

Mary Clark, State Historical Marker 42.2009.1, Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/state-historical-markers/find-a-marker/find-historical-markers-by-county/indiana-historical-markers-by-county/mary-clark/;

Polly Strong Slavery Case, State Historical Marker 31.2016.1, Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/state-historical-markers/find-a-marker/find-historical-markers-by-county/indiana-historical-markers-by-county/polly-strong-slavery-case/

“Disguised As A Doughboy:” The Front Line War Work of Sarah M. Wilmer

Poster, Charles N. Sarka, “Lend Him A Hand, Buy Liberty Bonds,” 1918, Digital Maryland, accessed Digital Public Library of America.

Upon her arrival at the U.S. Army basecamp, elegant entertainer Sarah Mildred Wilmer changed out of her travelling dress and into the brown wool jacket, breeches, and steel helmet of a doughboy. A talented performer and dramatic reader, she had arrived in Bar-le-Due, France, on September 4, 1918, on behalf of the Y.M.C.A. She was recruited to entertain the troops, but within twenty minutes of landing at the camp, she knew she would serve in a different capacity. She disguised herself as a soldier and headed to the front lines under heavy fire to help nurse the wounded. Wilmer would return from France to her parents in Hobart, Indiana, in a wheelchair and celebrated as a hero.[1]

Evening Crescent (Appleton, WI), July 8, 1907, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Sarah Wilmer was born to Benjamin and Ida Wilmer circa 1881 in Buffalo, New York. Her father worked as a printer for a daily newspaper and her parents made sure that she and her sister received an excellent education.[2] She “studied with the best” teachers and was “thoroughly schooled.”[3] Regarded as a beautiful young woman, Wilmer honed her elocution skills. As early as 1904, she began performing on the circuit of Chautauqua assemblies, traveling across the country and regularly stopping in the Midwest.[4] The Richmond Palladium, reported that she was “well-known by Richmond Chautauqua goers.”[5]  A Wisconsin newspaper called her “one of the greatest artists on the platform today.”[6] The program for a 1909 Chautauqua at Shades Park near Waveland, Indiana, described her skill and artistry:

Miss Sarah Mildred Wilmer’s work is characterized by determination to present literary masterpieces of true dramatic value. She is not content to please by mere cleverness. There must be an honest effort to do her work artistically and well. This quality has always won warm approval wherever she has appeared . . . She presents a repertoire of exceptional strength, embracing many of the best selections from modern and classic fiction and drama. Certainly no reader of the platform has ever given more perfect and artistic presentation than those given by Miss Wilmer.[7]

Caney News (Kansas), September 27, 1912, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

While her name may not be familiar today, she was famous, sought-after, and respected in her time. Drawing large crowds, Wilmer received top-billing and rave reviews. For example, in 1912, a Kansas newspaper called her “the greatest reader of the present generation” and reported that ten thousand people attended a recent Chautauqua to see her.[8]

She was also glamorous, dressing in fine clothes and staying in the best hotels. It would have been difficult for her adoring fans to imagine her dressed as a soldier, wading through mud, and dodging shells only a few years later.

Through her elocution work, Wilmer met Edward Van Bond of the Lyceum Bureau of Chicago and they were married in 1912. Unfortunately, her young husband died only a few years later, in 1915. She continued to keep a home base in Chicago near her parents who had moved to nearby Hobart, Indiana, and whom she visited often. She also continued touring and performing. After the U.S. entered WWI, however, she decided to use her talents to help the war effort.[9]

Poster, United War Work Campaign, Inc., “One of the Thousand Y.M.C.A. Girls in France. Y.M.C.A.,” 1918, Princeton Poster Collection, accessed Smithsonian Institution.

In 1918, the Y.M.C.A. asked Wilmer if she would be willing to go to France through a partnership with the American Expeditionary Forces to entertain the troops and raise their spirits. Not only did she cancel six months of Chautauqua appearances—a serious personal financial loss—she accepted the offer and refused payment from the Y.M.C.A. Lyceum Magazine reported:

Having had experience in surgical work she is well qualified to work in the hospitals and she plans on giving her programs in the hospitals during the day time and to the soldiers in the camps at night. She will give her regular play readings and also some special programs which she has prepared for the boys.[10]

It’s not clear when she would have gained “surgical work” experience, as newspapers show she was consistently busy with her Chautauqua performances. Whether or not she arrived in France with medical experience, she would soon be practicing on the battlefield.[11]

Postcard, “Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. girls on their way to France,” n.d., Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection, Digital Commonwealth, Massachusetts Collections Online, accessed Digital Public Library of America.
Passport photo, “Sarah Mildred Willmer,”  June 20, 1918, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Roll #: 569; Volume #: Roll 0569 – Certificates: 30500-30749, U.S. Passport Applications, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.

Wilmer left for France on August 4, 1918 and arrived September 4 at the Y.M.C.A base. Despite feeling scared, she was determined to be brave. In these later years of WWI, advancements in weapons technology meant that the hospitals and basecamps set up behind front lines were now in the line of fire for long range artillery and airplane bombings. She was right to be afraid.[12]

Wilmer gave different firsthand accounts of what happened next. A true performer, her story changed a bit as she polished and dramatized it for a public audience. Regardless, it is clear that she acted bravely and selflessly to aid the soldiers. She told the Chicago Tribune that upon arrival at the basecamp, the man in charge of the division’s entertainment greeted her and asked if she would “volunteer, then, to go to the front lines” to a camp where she would perform for the troops. He warned her that it would be dangerous, that she would “smell gunpowder and high explosives and gas.” She responded, “That is what I hoped for.” She entertained men during the day. However, at night she snuck to the front with the ambulance corps, intending to aid wounded soldiers. She explained:

Aided by friendly officers – entirely outside regulations and unknown to the “Y” man in charge of the base [entertainment] – I would dress in a soldier’s uniform and go up in total darkness.[13]

“Loading ambulance with wounded. American Red Cross Outpost sign shown in the background. American Red Cross men ministering to the wounded. Argonne Forest, west of Marcq, Ardennes, France, October 11, 1918, American National Red Cross photograph collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, accessed https://www.loc.gov/resource/anrc.17955/.

She also gave this description of a brush with death, mentioning the soldier’s uniform only as a passing detail:

I was in an ambulance, disguised as a man and dressed in a uniform, when we ran [the vehicle] into a shell hole, and promptly climbed out of it without stopping, with a driver grimly holding the wheel and never faltering for an instant, although shells were bursting all around us.[14]

A few days after she gave this account, she told the story to the Lake County Times with a few new dramatic flourishes, making the wearing of men’s clothing more central to the story:

How did I get to the front line? Well, I heard a young officer say, “Oh, it’s terrible up there tonight, a lot of the boys have been killed and wounded and there’s not nearly enough men to care for them.”

“Can’t you take me up there?” I asked him.

He told me I was a woman, that it would be breaking the rules.

“Well, get me some man’s clothes and I’ll be a man,” I replied. He hesitated and finally gave me a complete outfit, breeches, blouse, puttees [leg coverings], hobnails [boots] and all. And I went up.[15]

Lucien Jones, “An infantry attack in woods at Argonne front,” print, 1927, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, accessed https://www.loc.gov/resource/pga.03879/.

Wilmer explained that she went to the front nine times. And despite a bit of creative license with the details, she was consistent in her telling of the danger she faced and of the soldiers’ sacrifices. She recalled:

I was scared to death every time I went up to the line and would ask myself: “Why did I come here?” and then I would begin to sniffle and sob. But every time something would happen to show me why I had gone up there.[16]

But Wilmer knew why she had “gone up there” when she was able to help medical staff or comfort injured soldiers. One dark night in October, she had once again arrived at the front dressed in her doughboy uniform in order to provide help to the surgeons and nurses at the “first aid dressing station.” That night, the only breaks in the “uncanny” darkness were the “shells bursting” around them. Soldiers and medical staff carried their comrades into the medical station on stretchers. A doctor or nurse would then shine a flashlight on the injured to determine what care could be provided. The sight was often shocking. “O, it was horrible,” Wilmer said. She continued:

I was frightened, O, so frightened, but I did not dare to let that be known, for I was supposed to be a man. I helped with the boys who were brought in, and saw vividly the horror of it all, the lads dying and suffering, and had to remain quiet.[17]

Poster, “Red Cross Nurse,” circa 1918, Princeton University Posters Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, accessed Smithsonian Institute.

One incident in particular stuck with her. While she needed to dress as a man to help at the front, she was able to provide maternal comfort to a dying man. At one point, a soldier felt her hand and thought it belonged to a female Red Cross nurse. Wilmer denied her gender, telling him in “a gruff man’s voice” that there were no women at the front. But soon, when a man who was clearly dying, identified her as a woman, she conceded. This soldier had been shot in the lungs and was bleeding internally. Wilmer could only sit with him so he wouldn’t die alone. She smoothed his hair and he asked how it could be that a woman was at the front. Wanting to give him some of the comfort of home, she told him that his mother had sent her. He responded, “My mother? O, yes, I understand.” She then read to him from the Bible and he died in her arms.[18]

In late October, Wilmer was badly injured during a battle in the Argonne forest. Once again, she “went in front of the barrage, disguised as a doughboy.” She expounded:

I became sick suddenly. I smelled burning cabbage and bad onions and then I realized it was chlorine. Gas shells were breaking all around me . . . I grew faint and stumbled into a German dugout which had been deserted but a day previously. After five hours I recollected my thoughts and heard some voices. I walked out and found several stretcher bearers with whom I made the rear.[19]

While chlorine gas was not usually fatal, the effects could be long lasting or even permanent.[20] Wilmer suffered greatly as the gas “continued burning in her lungs” for weeks. But, she said, “I didn’t want to give up.”[21] Though she was back at base camp, she continued to entertain the soldiers with her dramatic readings. This was almost certainly uncomfortable in her condition. On November 11, 1918, she was reading to a large group of men when a colonel walked in and interrupted her to make an announcement. Germany had surrendered. The war was over.[22]

U.S. Army in France – doughboys cheering news of Armistice, 1918, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, accessed https://lccn.loc.gov/2016652679.

Wilmer soon sailed for the United States, still suffering from her injuries. By the time she reached New York, it became clear that she would need a nurse to continue her journey home to the Midwest and she hired a Mrs. Jane Redfield Vose to help care for her.[23] Wilmer and Vose went first to Chicago. Wilmer was there to visit Dr. Lena K. Sadler “with whom she had lived for years.” She was still suffering to the extent that she had to be carried from the taxi into the house by two men. Once inside, Sadler’s two young children ran to greet their adopted “Aunt Sarah.” Wilmer then needed “restoratives” to allow her to speak to reporters.[24]

Lake County Times, December 24, 1918, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

From Chicago, Wilmer went to her parents’ house in Hobart, which would be her home for some time as she recovered. She arrived in a wheelchair and was advised by doctors not to return to the stage for months. However, she travelled from the Region to Indianapolis as early as March 1919 to attend the “Big Meeting” where she delivered her speech “My Experiences in War.” And we can only imagine how much she had polished her tale during her months of recovery.[25]

Indianapolis Star, March 16, 1919, 3, accessed Newspapers.com

Though she returned to the stage, Wilmer wasn’t finished helping others. In 1928, she moved to Rochester, New York. A local newspaper reported:

Always interested in social service work, Mrs. Wilmer took up reading and soon took over classes in the Rochester schools, teaching lip reading and effective speech.

She also worked for the Rochester Board of Education and the League for the Hard of Hearing. When the U.S. entered World War II and women were again called to service, Wilmer answered. She worked a “line job on the graveyard shift” at the local General Motors factory, which had been converted to war production. She also continued her dramatic performances. She died in 1949, and was remembered in her obituary as a “heroine” who “brightened the lives of many” through her social work and dramatic arts. Though only briefly a Hoosier, she is one to remember.[26]

Notes

[1] “Hobart Girl, Invalided Home, Tells of Experience: Was in Battles in Male Attire,” Lake County Times, December 24, 1918, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[2] Tenth Census of the United States, Buffalo, Erie County, New York, June 7, 1880, District: 116, Ward: 2, Page: 17, Lines: 40-43, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.

[3] Pamphlet, First Annual Assembly of the Pleasant Shades Chautauqua to be Held at “The Shades” Near Waveland, Indiana, 1909, p. 8, Chautauqua Album, Indiana Album, accessed Indiana Memory.

[4] Advertisement, Oshkosh Northwestern (Wisconsin), September 19, 1904, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[5] “Chautauqua Performer, Well-Known Here, Returns from Y Work in France,” Richmond Palladium, December 18, 1918, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[6] “In Society,” Sheboygan Press (Wisconsin), February 12, 1913, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

[7] Pamphlet, First Annual Assembly of the Pleasant Shades Chautauqua to be Held at “The Shades” Near Waveland, Indiana, 1909, Indiana Album, accessed Indiana Memory.

[8] “Would Have Ranked High as an Actress,” Caney News (Kansas), September 27, 1912, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[9] “Nephew of President Crossfield Is Dead,” Lexington Herald, August 11, 1915, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[10] “Miss Wilmer Goes to France,” Lyceum Magazine (July 1918): 31, accessed Google Books.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Sarah Joyce Wilmer, “War’s Glory and Horror as Seen by Chicago Girl,” Chicago Tribune, December 22, 1918, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “Women in WWI,” National WWI Museum and Memorial, accessed https://www.theworldwar.org/learn/women. Note that the Chicago Tribune misprinted Wilmer’s middle name.

[13] “War’s Glory and Horror as Seen by Chicago Girl,” 4.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Hobart Girl, Invalided Home, Tells of Experience,” Lake County Times, December 24, 1918, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “War’s Glory and Horror as Seen by Chicago Girl,” 4.

[18] Ibid.; “Hobart Girl, Invalided Home, Tells of Experience,” 1.

[19] “Hobart Girl, Invalided Home, Tells of Experience,” 1.

[20] “First Usage of Poison Gas,” National WWI Museum and Memorial, accessed https://www.theworldwar.org/learn/about-wwi/spotlight-first-usage-poison-gas.

[21] “War’s Glory and Horror as Seen by Chicago Girl,” 4.

[22] Ibid.; “Armistice,” National WWI Museum and Memorial, accessed https://www.theworldwar.org/learn/about-wwi/armistice.

[23] “Hobart Girl, Invalided Home, Tells of Experience,” 1.

[24]”War’s Glory and Horror as Seen by Chicago Girl,” 4.

[25] “Hobart Girl, Invalided Home, Tells of Experience,” 1; “Woman War Worker Will Address Big Meeting,” Indianapolis Star, March 16, 1919, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[26] “Sarah M. Willmer [sic] Dies; Heroine, Social Worker,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), July 14, 1949, 18, accessed Newspapers.com.

Myth of the Mexican Monolith: Experiences of Bracero, Migrant, and U.S. Workers of Mexican Origin at Sechler’s Pickles Inc. Part One

Immigrants have long helped to create a healthier U.S. economy. The work of respected historians and economists has repeatedly dispelled the xenophobic myth that immigrants “steal American jobs.” Instead, immigrants (both those who arrive through documented and undocumented venues) increase the earning potential for all Americans. Pia Orrenius, Vice President and Senior Economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and Fellow at the John Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University, explains:

Immigration fuels the economy. When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives . . . In addition to the immigration surplus, immigrants grease the wheels of the labor market by flowing into industries and areas where there is a relative need for workers — where bottlenecks or shortages might otherwise damp growth. [1]

This was especially true of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Not only did they help stimulate the United States economy, but they were willing to move into areas like rural Indiana where farmers needed extra help at harvest time. And several Indiana businesses can attribute their success during the lean years of the Great Depression and the labor shortages of the Second World War to the contributions of workers of Mexican origin. [2]

Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., just outside the town of St. Joe in DeKalb County has become a successful company and nationally recognized brand over their last century of operations. In addition to the hard work, vision, and savvy of its founders, Ralph and Anne Sechler, the company attributes much of its success to the workers who helped them meet increasing demand over the years. Since the 1940s, many of these laborers have come from Mexico or have had Mexican ancestry. But within that group, there is much more diversity than newspapers and other sources have recognized. As immigration continues to diversify today, this nuance is worth understanding better. [3]

Sarah Miller, “Cool As A Cucumber at Sechler’s Pickles,” My Indiana Home, May 13, 2014, https://my-indiana-home.com/food/sechlers-pickles-preserves-tradition/

Some of these workers were U.S. citizens whose parents were born in Mexico, such as Carmen (Morales) Ortiz, who was born in Kansas. Some were born in Mexico and became U.S. citizens through naturalization, including Carmen’s husband Floyd Ortiz, who was a U.S. citizen for decades before starting at Sechler’s. Others, including Aurelio Rivera, were Mexican citizens who came to Indiana at the behest of the U.S. government via the Bracero Program to help meet increased wartime food production demands. And still others, such as Rosalio and Paula Luna, were migrant workers, travelling with the harvests through the Midwest, sometimes returning to Mexico to help family there.  Despite their varied backgrounds, contemporary sources, especially newspapers, often treated these individuals as a monolith. Thus, it can be difficult to record an accurate history of workers of Mexican origin and their experiences in Indiana. An exploration of this Hoosier pickle company, however, provides a glimpse into workers lives in a way that adds richness to the story of our state.

This post, the first of two, will look at the experiences of two U.S. citizens of Mexican origin at Sechler’s Pickles, Carmen and Floyd Ortiz. Notably, this study suffers from a lack of sources created by the Ortizes themselves. To address this hole in the record, I have juxtaposed newspapers, government records, contextual sources, and family and corporate histories. In doing so, this post also serves as a lesson in the importance of comparing sources created from different perspectives and how that creates more accurate history. This balance is especially important in telling the history of marginalized groups. Personal stories of the Ortizes and vital records, such as census and immigration papers, help to counter biased newspaper accounts given by Indiana newspapers. The rhetoric of these newspapers also provides insight into Hoosier opinions on immigration and how perspectives about Mexican immigrants changed depending on external forces such as the Great Depression and WWII. And finally, this concentrated study reinforces the fact that many immigrants arrived here because Hoosier farmers and the U.S. government asked them to, establishing the migration patterns that continue to shape the state and nation. The stories of the workers and their families at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., are part of the story of Indiana and a diversifying United States. Additionally, this story of how Sechlers got started, how the Ortizes arrived at Sechler’s Pickeles, and how these families formed a relationship that would last for generations is in interesting look into the lesser-explored agricultural history of the state.

Sechler’s Pickles

Ralph E. Sechler was born in 1894 in St. Joe, DeKalb County. He attended St. Joe and then Butler High School, graduating circa 1912. He taught at a local high school for three years and worked summers at a “pickle receiving and salting station in St. Joe” ran by the D.M. Sears Company of Fort Wayne. In 1915, he entered Indiana State Normal School in Terre Haute where he thrived. He played basketball, managed the track team, and served as secretary of the Daedalian Literary Society through which he participated in debates and delivered speeches. [4]

Indiana State Normal School, Program of Commencement Week, Terre Haute, Indiana, 1916, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, AncestryLibrary.com.

When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, Ralph registered with the U.S. Army. When his name came up for service, he was one of only eighteen (out of 781 names) who did not attempt to claim an exemption. Before he left home for the war, he married Anna Florence Martindale, a Greenfield native two years his senior. [3]

Greenfield High School, The Elevenite, 1911, 18, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, AncestryLibrary.com.

Anna was just as sharp as Ralph and worked as a teacher at Seymour High School during her new husband’s absence. In September 1917, Ralph left for Camp Taylor in Louisville. His superiors quickly noticed his intelligence and aptitude for teaching. In October, the Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that “Ralph Sechler, another St. Joe boy, is still at Camp Taylor, engaged four nights in the week teaching night school for the benefit of Uncle Sam’s boys who have not learned to read and write.” [4] He was commissioned Second Lieutenant but did not serve overseas because of the Army’s need for competent teachers at the officer’s training camp.

“Ralph Sechler,” Registration Card, DeKalb County, Indiana, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com

After his discharge from the Army in 1919, he went back to work for the D.M. Sears Company and was soon put in charge of approximately a dozen “receiving stations,” where farmers brought their produce to be processed. Between 1920 and 1923, he transitioned from managing these stations to leasing them and securing his own contracts with local cucumber growers. Soon Ralph and Anne Sechler had established their own pickle processing business at their home and farm just north of St. Joe. By 1925, local grocery stores carried “St. Joe Valley” pickles and by 1930, they were popular in local restaurants as well. [5]

Ralph and Anna Sechler Home, St. Joe, DeKalb County, Indiana, photograph, accessed “Touring the Sechler’s Pickle Factory,” Midwest Wanderer, October 25, 2016, https://midwestwanderer.com/sechlers-pickles/

The Sechlers employed creative strategies to stay afloat during the Great Depression. As one would expect, they worked with local cucumber growers, processing this produce into pickles. But they also worked with Chicago processors, purchasing goods to resell to Hoosier grocery stores and restaurants, and thus besting other businesses with the variety they could offer. They also brought barrels of pickles to homebound locals who would jar the goods. These neighbors worked for low wages, but also received income they would otherwise have not been able to access. [6]

South Bend Tribune, July 31, 1925, 30, Newspapers.com

Around 1933, Ralph and Anne turned their barn into a pickle processing factory and a driver began making deliveries to businesses in a new truck marked “St. Joe Valley Pickles.” In 1937, the Sechlers made major improvements to the processing facility, hooking up a steam engine to the threshing machines and pickling tanks and increasing production. Early on a late October morning in 1937, the Sechlers’ pickle processing center, which they had built in their barn, burned down. By the following Monday, workers were already building a new, larger facility. This larger facility helped the company grow; the following year, the company also purchased more delivery trucks. [7]

Waterloo Press, October 21, 1937, 1, Newspapers.com.

Over the following decade, Sechler’s added more varieties of products. One Indiana grocery store advertised in 1944: “St. Joe Valley sweet pickles, raisin crispies, sweet relish, sweet chips, sweet mixed dills, sweet orange marmalade, jellies, Apple butter, strained honey.” Thus, by the time the U.S. increased agricultural production for the war effort and the Bracero Program was in full swing, Sechler’s Pickles was a thriving Indiana business employing a number of local growers, packers, and delivery drivers and serving stores and restaurants across the state. [8]

Tina Bobilya, “Learn How Pickles Are Made on This Free Pickle Factory Tour,” Visit Indiana, May 7, 2019, https://www.visitindiana.com/blog/post/pickle-factory-tour/.

The Ortiz Family

Floyd Ortiz was born circa 1903 to John and Isabelle Gutierez-Ortiz in Salamanca in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. [9]  While today, Salamanca is a thriving manufacturing city with a renowned university, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the area was not economically or politically stable. President Porfirio Díaz made some economic improvements, increasing the mining output of the region, but it was mainly already wealthy people who benefited. His tax breaks for the rich and “unwillingness to recognize minority rights” of the indigenous people of the region led to a revolt against the administration in 1910. [10] In 1911, a coalition led by Francisco Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza ousted President Díaz and replaced him with Francisco Madero. However, battles between federal and rebel factions continued for years, destabilizing the region and making it hard for average citizens to make a living. Floyd Ortiz, like many others from Guanajuato, likely came to the United States as “displaced refugees fleeing the political upheaval and violence” of the 1910 revolution.[11]

Non-statistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at Laredo, Texas, May 1903-November 1929; NAI: 2843448, Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004., Record Group Number: 85; Microfilm Roll Number: 072, National Archives and Records Administration., accessed AncestryLibrary.com.

In 1919, Floyd Ortiz arrived in the United States at Laredo, Texas, where he received documentation for “lawful entry” into the country. He was just 16 years old. [12] Within four years, in 1923, Ortiz became a naturalized U.S. citizen. [13] Just one year later, the U.S. shut the door to refugees with the Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act), the result of xenophobic ideas and no small amount of lobbying by the Ku Klux Klan. And while Mexican immigration was exempted from this exclusionary immigration act – for reasons we’ll examine further in part two – Mexican immigrants were not exempt from prejudices of pseudoscientific thinking influenced by eugenics and general racism and bigotry. They often endured low wages, poor living conditions, and hard labor to make a life in the United States. [14]

Marjory Collins, “Mexican Agricultural Laborer Topping Sugar Beets,” photograph, 1944, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, https://www.loc.gov/resource/fsa.8d29109/.

Carmen Morales was born circa 1908 in Kansas to parents of Mexican origin. Throughout her life, newspapers and even official government sources recorded her as “Mexican,” despite the fact that she was a native born U.S. citizen. We don’t know much about her family’s path to Indiana, but by the mid-1920s Carmen was “employed in beet work” in central Indiana and her mother and step father were living in northwest Indiana. [15] Perhaps she met Floyd Ortiz through work because he was also working the beet harvests in Tipton and Madison Counties. Or perhaps they met through family, friends, or church events, as later records show they were both devout Catholics.

Tipton Daily Tribune, December 28, 1927, 6, Newspapers.com

In 1927, Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, got married at the county clerk’s office in Tipton, Indiana. We’re lucky to have local newspaper coverage to supply some details of the day. However, the reporter for the Tipton Daily Tribune treated the event not as a wedding between two U.S. citizens living in Indiana but as an oddity, exaggerating the “foreignness” of the couple. The newspaper’s account of this “out of the ordinary” wedding focused on the Mexican heritage of the couple and their parents. [16]

The Tipton Daily Tribune called Floyd a “native born Mexican” and described Carmen as “full blooded Mexican, but who was born in the state of Kansas.” In other words, while Carmen was a United States citizen, the newspaper reporter still considered her Mexican. Despite Floyd’s almost ten years in the United States and his 1923 naturalization, and despite Carmen’s status as a native-born U.S. citizen, the 1927 newspaper article could only see their race and that construct made them Mexican and not American. The reporter further underscored the couple’s “foreignness” by detailing that their parents were both from Mexico. While both sets of parents were indeed born in Mexico, they were also Hoosiers by this point. The groom’s parents lived in Geneva, Indiana, and the bride’s mother and stepfather lived in Francisville, Indiana. Further research would be needed to determine if the parents were naturalized citizens, but it is likely they had also been in the United States for some time considering Carmen’s stepfather went by “John” as opposed to a “Juan” or another Spanish name. Without considering the citizenship information offered by the census and immigration agencies, one would come away from reading the newspaper article believing that two “Mexicans Married” as opposed to two U.S. citizens with families of Mexican origin. This theme of juxtaposing sources will continue to be important as we dig deeper into the story of workers of Mexican origin at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc. [17]

Why is it important to clarify that Floyd and Carmen are U.S. citizens? Because at the time, and even today, many treat all workers of Mexican origin as a monolith, usually assuming that they are Mexican citizens and migrant workers coming to the U.S. to make money at harvest time and then return to Mexico. This is, in fact, an assumption that allowed Mexico to avoid immigration restrictions that impacted other groups in the 1920s. However, Mexican immigrants and migrants of Mexican origin are not a monolithic group; there are a range of reasons people left Mexico and either returned home or stayed in the United States to brave the road to citizenship. Every Hoosier has their own family immigration story, creating a rich and diverse state history. Families of Mexican origin are not different. The array of migration experiences is as diverse as Hoosiers of Potawatomi, German, African, or Serbian heritage.

“Weeding Sugar Beet Fields Near Brighton,” photograph, 1959, Denver Public Library Special Collections, accessed Digital Public Library of America.

The Ortiz Family at Sechler’s Pickles

After Floyd and Carmen worked the beet harvests in Tipton and Madison Counties and got married in Adams County, Indiana, they moved to Paulding County, Ohio. The 1930 census listed Floyd as a “beet worker” here as well, while listing Carmen’s occupation as “none,” likely because she had recently given birth to their first daughter, Mary. Their family grew quickly and by 1940, the census reported that Floyd and Carmen were the parents of eight children. Times must have been very difficult; though the census reported that both Floyd and Carmen were beet workers, Floyd had been out of work for unknown reasons for thirty weeks. [18]

“Mexican Laborers Weed Sugar Beet Field,” photograph, 1943, Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society, https://www.oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/historical-records/mexican-laborers-weed-sugar-beet-field..

By 1944, however, Floyd was at work at the Paulding Sugar Beet Co. The company contacted Sechler’s Pickles about growing and processing beets for them and offered to send “a real good family,” as well as housing for them, in exchange for Sechler’s help with production. The Ortizes and the Sechlers accepted the arrangement. By this point, Floyd and Carmen had fourteen children and they moved the family to DeKalb County. Floyd and several of the children went to work for Sechler’s. The younger children worked in the field picking produce and then, after they turned sixteen, they worked in the processing factory. [19]

We don’t know too much about their life in DeKalb County except that they were able to take care of their family and save money, as eventually they purchased their own 80-acre farm just east of St. Joe on the Ohio border. Frank Sechler, son of Ralph and manager of the company by this point, speculated that the Ortizes picked the location because of it’s proximity to their church. Frank recalled Floyd’s devout faith:

I seldom walked up to Floyd in the field but what he didn’t reach in his pocket and pull out a stone he had just found, which would have a figure of Christ, a cross, or some other religious item on it. Sometimes I had a little trouble discerning it, but he would convince me!!!  [20]

By the 1960s, Floyd and Carmen Ortiz were living in Hicksville, Ohio where Floyd died in 1973. Several family members, including daughter Dorothy Chew, daughter-in-law Betty Ortiz, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren continued the Ortiz family connection with Sechler’s, working in the fields and factory. [21] In fact, the Ortiz family helped to fund the state historical marker for Sechler’s Pickles that will be installed this fall 2022. The text will read:

Ralph and Anne Sechler  established Sechler’s Pickles (first named St. Joe Valley)  on their homestead here in the 1920s.  Despite the Great Depression, they grew the business, selling many varieties of pickles to local restaurants  and building a larger processing facility in 1937.  By the early 1950s, grocery stores across Indiana and Ohio carried Sechler’s Pickles.

Workers of Mexican origin, including Braceros who arrived in the 1940s to aid the U.S. war effort, were essential to the Sechlers’ success.  Several of these families remained with the company for decades.  A network of salesmen, mail orders, church fundraisers, and partnerships with well-known companies made Sechler’s Pickles a respected and nationally recognized brand. [22]

Tina Bobilya, “Learn How Pickles Are Made on This Free Pickle Factory Tour,” Visit Indiana, May 7, 2019, https://www.visitindiana.com/blog/post/pickle-factory-tour/.

In addition to the Ortizes, Sechler’s Pickles, Inc. also employed Mexican migrant workers and dozens of Braceros. The experiences of workers who were Mexican citizens in Indiana were much different than that of the Ortiz family’s experiences as U.S. citizens. In Part Two of this post, we’ll examine the work and lives of Mexican migrant and Bracero workers at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., their reception by their Hoosier neighbors, and how they were portrayed in Indiana newspapers. Check back for:

“Rancho Allegre:” Experiences of Bracero, Migrant, and U.S. Workers of Mexican Origin at Sechler’s Pickles Inc. Part Two.

Notes

Newspaper articles accessed Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.

[1] Pia Orrenius, “Benefits of Immigration Outweigh the Costs,” The Catalyst, Spring 2016, Issue 2, George W. Bush Institute, https://www.bushcenter.org/catalyst/north-american-century/benefits-of-immigration-outweigh-costs.html.
[2] Ibid.; Jorge Durand, Douglas S. Massey, and Emilio A. Parrado, “The New Era of Mexican Migration to the United States,” Rethinking History and the Nation State: Mexico and the United States, A Special Issue of the Journal of American History 86, No. 2 (September 1999): 518-536, accessed Organization of American Historians.
[3] Frank Sechler, History of Sechler Pickles, 1921-1996, Willennar Genealogy Center, Eckhart Public Library, copy in marker file. According to the corporate history written by founder Ralph Sechler’s son Frank Sechler, “Hispanics were very much a part of our operations, both in the field and in the plant.” This source is consulted throughout the post and compared with the other sources listed in the notes below.
[4] Ralph E. Sechler, Medical Certificate of Death, Indiana State Board of Health, December 12, 1962, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Roll 19, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Grave of Ralph E. Sechler [photograph], Riverside Cemetery, Saint Joe, DeKalb County, Indiana, accessed Find-A-Grave; Butler High School Yearbook, 1912, p. 16, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Juniors and Sophs Wine in Normal Series,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, November 13, 1915, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles; Edgar L. Morphet, “Freshies Finish Last,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute], December 2, 1915, 11, Hoosier State Chronicles; Indiana State Normal School, Program of Commencement Week, Terre Haute, Indiana, 1916, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, AncestryLibrary.com; “Literary Society Meets,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute], October 4, 1916, 12, Hoosier State Chronicles; “State Normal Presents Baseball Players with Letters,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute}, June 11, 1917, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.
[5] “Ralph Sechler,” Registration Card, DeKalb County, Indiana, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “DeKalb County Fails to Get Quota of Eighty-Eight,” Fort Wayne News, August 9, 1917, 1; “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 14, 1917, 11.
[6] “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Daily News, September 20, 1917, 11; “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, October 29, 1917, 3; “Will Visit Camp Taylor,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 26, 1918, 11; “Newsy Paragraphs,” (Seymour) Tribune, September 12, 1918, 3; “Newsy Paragraphs,” (Seymour) Tribune, June 10, 1919, 8.
[7] “St. Joe News,” March 11, 1920, newspaper clipping, in Frank Sechler, History of Sechler Pickles, 1921-1996, 3, Willennar Genealogy Center, Eckhart Public Library, copy in marker file; Fort Wayne City and Allen County Directory, 1922 (Fort Wayne: R. L. Polk & Co. Publishers), 924, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Local and General,” Waterloo Press (DeKalb Co.), August 30, 1923, 5; Advertisement, South Bend Tribune, July 31, 1925, 30; Garrett Clipper, October 4, 1926, 7; Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Concord, De Kalb, Indiana; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0003, FHL microfilm: 2340320, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Advertisement, South Bend Tribune, May 23, 1930, 36; Sechler, 4.
[8] Sechler, 10-11.
[9] “Thousands See Great Parade at County Fair,” Garrett Clipper, October 8, 1934, 2; “Pickle Plant at St. Joe Consumed,” Waterloo Press, October 21, 1937, 1; “Personal,” Garrett Clipper, November 1, 1937, 2; Sechler, 11-12.
[10] Advertisement, Daily Reporter (Greenfield), May 12, 1944, 5.
[11] Non-statistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at Laredo, Texas, May 1903-November 1929, NAI: 2843448, Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004., Record Group Number: 85, Microfilm Roll Number: 072, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, Marriage Registration, August 27, 1903, Tipton, Indiana, 88, Indiana Marriages 1810-2001, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[12] Victor Garcia and Laura Gonzalez Martinez, “Guanajuatense and Other Mexican Immigrants in the United States: New Communities in Non-Metropolitan and Agricultural Regions,” JSRI Research Report #47, Julian Samora Research Institute, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, 1999, accessed https://jsri.msu.edu/upload/working-papers/wp47.pdf.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Non-statistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at Laredo, Texas, May 1903-November 1929, NAI: 2843448, Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004., Record Group Number: 85, Microfilm Roll Number: 072, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[15] Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Jackson Township, Paulding County, Ohio, Page: 6B, Enumeration District: 0018, FHL microfilm: 2341594, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[16] Jill Weiss Simins, “Braceros in the Corn Belt Part Two: Ambassadors of Goodwill,” Untold Indiana, March 13, 2019, https://blog.history.in.gov/braceros-in-the-corn-belt-part-two/.
[17] Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, Marriage Registration, August 27, 1903, Tipton, Indiana, 88, Indiana Marriages 1810-2001, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Mexicans Married,” Tipton Daily Tribune, December 28, 1927, 6.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Jackson Township, Paulding County, Ohio, Page: 6B, Enumeration District: 0018, FHL microfilm: 2341594, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[20] Ibid; Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, Blackcreek Township, Mercer County, Ohio, Page: 11A, Enumeration District: 54-1, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[21] Sechler, 26.
[22] Ibid.
[23] “Former Decatur Resident Dies,” Decatur Daily Democrat, October 8, 1973, 1.
[24] Learn more about the Indiana Historical Bureau and the state historical marker program: in.gov/history.